Skip to main content

Full text of "Geophagy"

See other formats

The  person  borrowing  this  material  is  re- 
sponsible for  its  renewal  or  return  before 
the  Latest  Date  stamped  below.  You  may 
be  charged  a  minimum  fee  of  $75.00  for 
each  non-returned  or  lost  item. 

Theft,    mutilation,    or   defacement    of    library   materials   can    be 

causes  for  student  disciplinary  action.  All  materials  owned  by 
the  University  of  Illinois  library  are  the  property  of  the  Stat* 
of  Illinois  and  are  protected  by  Article  16B  of  Illinois  Criminal 
Law  and  Procedure. 

TO  RENEW,  CALL  (217)  333-8400. 
University  of  Illinois  Library  at  Urbana-Champaign 

DEC  21 1999 

When  renewing  by  phone,  write  new  due  date 
below  previous  due  date.  L162 

Field  Museum  of  Natural  History 

Founded  by  Marshall  Field,  1893 

Publication  280 
Anthropological  Series  Volume  XVIII,  No.  2 




Berthold  Laufer 


CHICAGO,  U.  S.  A. 



v.  it 



Introduction 101 

China Ill 

Indo-China 127 

Malaysia  and  Polynesia 129 

Melanesia  and  Australia 136 

India,  Burma,  and  Siam 140 

Central  Asia  and  Siberia 144 

Persians  and  Arabs 150 

Africa 156 

Europe 163 

North  America 170 

Mexico  and  Central  America 178 

South  America 185 

Bibliography 192 

Index 194 




The  bibliography  appended  to  this  study  may  appear  impressive 
at  first  sight,  and  a  glance  at  it  may  even  convey  the  impression  as 
though  a  novel  investigation  of  the  subject  were  superfluous,  but 
such  an  impression  would  be  a  delusion.  The  only  really  profound 
and  serious  research  is  represented  by  the  fundamental  work  of 
Ehrenberg,  which  has  unfortunately  been  forgotten  or  overlooked 
by  the  majority  of  those  who  have  subsequently  written  on  the 
subject.  Ehrenberg,  a  geologist  by  profession,  has  studied  and 
analyzed  many  hundreds  of  specimens  of  edible  earths  from  all 
parts  of  the  globe,  and  has  had  a  wider  and  deeper  knowledge  of 
the  subject  than  all  his  successors  combined.  Science  does  not 
always  progress  consistently  in  a  straight  line.  Many  articles  cited 
in  the  bibliography  are  informative  on  special  lines  and  useful, 
particularly  the  work  of  Hooper  and  Mann,  which  is  important  as 
far  as  India  is  concerned.  The  whole  subject,  however,  is  deserving 
of  a  new  treatment  in  the  light  of  fresh  material  and  from  the 
standpoint  of  the  universal  history  of  mankind. 

In  this  article  is  given  for  the  first  time  a  correct  exposition 
of  the  facts  concerning  geophagy,  as  revealed  by  Chinese  records 
which  are  abundant.  It  will  be  noticed  that  these  are  very  instruc- 
tive and  contribute  important  material  toward  the  evaluation  of 
the  whole  question  of  geophagy.  For  this  reason  China  opens  this 
investigation.  The  days  are  gone  when  the  discussion  of  a  problem 
started  with  the  Greeks  and  Romans  whose  importance  in  the 
history  of  civilization  is  not  much  greater  than  and  in  many  respects 
inferior  to  that  of  the  Asiatic  nations.  Next  to  China  the  relevant 
conditions  in  Indo-China,  Malaysia  and  Polynesia,  Melanesia  and 
Australia,  India,  Burma,  and  Siam,  Central  Asia  and  Siberia, 
among  Persians  and  Arabs,  in  Africa,  Europe,  and  America  will 
be  reviewed  and  discussed.  In  all  these  sections  a  great  many  new 
data  unknown  to  previous  investigators  will  be  found.  America 
especially  has  never  before  been  adequately  treated. 

Geophagy  is  a  convenient  term  which  comprises  a  series  of  most 
varied  phenomena  resulting  from  entirely  different  causes  and 
moving  along  different  psychological  lines. 


102  Geophagy 

In  regard  to  the  various  earths  and  clays  used  by  mankind 
Ehrenberg's  work  gives  the  best  possible  information,  and  any 
new  geological  and  chemical  researches  should  continue  where  he 
left  his  task.  As  a  rule,  not  every  kind  of  earth  is  eaten,  but  only 
those  kinds  which  recommend  themselves  through  certain  qualities, 
such  as  color,  odor,  flavor,  softness,  and  plasticity.  The  most  impor- 
tant from  the  standpoint  of  edibility  is  what  is  called  diatomaceous 
earth  or  kieselguhr,  popularly  known  as  "mountain  meal"  or 
"fossil  meal"  (in  Chinese  "stone  meal"  or  "earth-rice"),  which  is 
a  very  light,  porous  earth  resembling  chalk  or  clay  and  consisting 
of  the  siliceous  remains  of  very  minute  aquatic  organisms  or  diatoms 
in  several  thousand  varieties  (hence,  also  styled  "infusorial  earth"). 
It  varies  in  color  from  white  to  different  shades  of  gray  to  black. 
Earths  used  as  medicines  or  for  enjoyment  are  almost  without 
exception  fine,  fat,  and  usually  ferruginous  clays.  They  are  con- 
sumed either  in  their  natural  state  or  lightly  baked.  Diatomaceous 
earth  is  at  present  of  great  industrial  importance  (cf .  N.  Goodwin, 
Diatomaceous  Earth,  Chemical  and  Metallurgical  Engineering,  1920, 
pp.  1158-1160;  R.  B.  Ladoo,  Non-metallic  Minerals,  1925,  p.  190). 

Geophagy  has  been  characterized  by  previous  authors  as  an 
"evil"  or  a  "vice,"  while  others  have  qualified  it  with  such  attributes 
as  "disgusting"  or  "depraved  appetite."  Such  characterizations  are 
subjective  and  meaningless,  and  do  not  help  us  in  understanding 
the  phenomenon.  Man,  at  the  outset,  will  taste  and  test  every- 
thing offered  to  him  by  nature;  and  consuming  earth,  mud,  or  clay 
is  no  more  surprising  than  eating  salt,  pepper,  bark,  insects,  snakes, 
or  monkeys,  or  chewing  gum,  coca  leaves,  betel,  or  tobacco. 

Earth  or  clay  is  nowhere  used  as  an  ordinary  and  regular  article 
of  diet,  on  a  par  with  vegetal  and  animal  food-stuffs;  as  it  essentially 
consists  of  inorganic  matter,  it  is  naturally  indigestible.  It  was 
used,  however,  and  may  still  be  used  by  many  peoples  in  times 
of  scarcity  and  famine  as  a  food  substitute  to  allay  the  pangs  of 
hunger,  giving  as  it  does  a  sensation  of  fullness  to  the  stomach; 
as  a  sort  of  condiment  or  relish,  usually  in  combination  with  articles 
of  food;  mixed  with  acrid  tubers  or  acorns  as  a  corrective  of  taste; 
as  a  dainty  or  delicacy  for  its  own  sake;  as  a  remedy  for  certain 
diseases;  as  a  part  of  religious  rites  and  ceremonies.  These  are  the 
normal  applications  of  clay  and  earth.  There  is,  further,  an  abnormal 
or  morbid  use  produced  by  or  accompanying  certain  diseases,  or 
due  to  nervous  conditions. 

Introduction  103 

Most  writers  have  indulged  in  the  sweeping  assertion  that 
geophagy  is  a  universal  phenomenon  and  was  practised  in  times 
of  antiquity.  Neither  of  these  statements  is  true.  Generalization  is 
the  worst  of  all  setbacks  in  scientific  research  and  unfortunately 
an  only  too  common  sin  in  ethnological  studies.  This  or  that  custom 
is  observed  in  a  single  or  a  few  individuals  or  in  a  single  settlement, 
and  it  is  at  once  fastened  on  the  whole  community  or  tribe  or 
country.  A  traveler  may  have  seen  a  certain  person  lick  or  chew 
a  bit  of  earth,  and  the  nation  to  which  this  individual  belongs  will 
go  down  in  history  as  one  of  geophagists.  Lasch  (p.  216)  asserts 
that  earth-eating  is  exceedingly  diffused  over  Africa,  but  this 
notion  of  a  wide  diffusion  is  merely  fortified  by  a  total  of  seven 
references.  What  is  needed  in  ethnology  is  application  of  statistical 
methods  or  judicious  restriction  to  really  observed  cases.  Geophagy 
is  not  universal;  it  is  unknown,  for  example,  in  Japan  ancient  and 
modern,  Korea,  Polynesia  excepting  New  Zealand  (while  it  occurs 
in  Malaysia  and  Melanesia),  Madagascar,  as  well  as  in  many  parts 
of  Africa  and  Europe,  and  in  the  southern  part  of  South  America. 
It  was  likewise  unknown  in  ancient  Egypt  and  Babylonia  as  well 
as  among  the  ancient  Semites  in  general.  It  was  equally  foreign 
to  the  Greeks  and  Romans  of  classical  times,  while  in  the  Hellenistic 
period  the  use  of  clay  was  confined  to  that  of  a  medicine;  neither 
Greeks  nor  Romans  were  geophagists.  In  China,  Indo-China,  India, 
and  Persia  earth-eating  was  practised  to  a  certain  extent,  and  is 
still  widely  practised  in  India  and  Persia,  but  in  none  of  these 
countries  is  there  an  ancient  record  of  this  custom  preserved;  at 
least  I  have  found  none  that  would  antedate  our  era.  Maybe,  this 
is  fortuitous;  maybe,  it  is  not;  the  coincidence  of  the  lack  of  ancient 
records  in  all  great  civilizations  of  Asia,  at  any  rate,  is  suggestive. 

While  geophagy  is  not  a  universal  phenomenon,  yet  it  occurs 
sporadically  almost  anywhere.  It  has  nothing  to  do  with  climate, 
race,  creed,  culture  areas,  or  a  higher  or  lesser  degree  of  culture. 
It  is  found  among  the  most  civilized  nations,  even  in  our  own 
midst,  as  well  as  among  primitive  tribes.  It  occurs  in  the  Old  and 
New  Worlds  alike.  On  the  other  hand,  the  habit  is  not  general 
in  any  particular  tribal  or  social  group,  and  none  can  positively  be 
labeled  with  a  clear  distinction  as  geophagists  or  non-geophagists. 
There  are  individuals  who  eat  earth,  and  there  are  other  members 
of  the  same  tribe  who  abstain  from  it  and  even  disapprove  of  the 
habit  or  may  even  see  fit  to  dissuade  their  countrymen  from  indulg- 
ing in  it.    In  other  words,  the  habit  is  more  or  less  individual,  not 

104  Geophagy 

typically  tribal;  and  this  is  exactly  the  point  which  has  aroused  my 
interest  in  the  subject.  We  are  wont  to  look  upon  the  life  and 
thoughts  of  a  primitive  people  as  something  typical  and  collective, 
as  a  standard  adopted  and  followed  by  all  members  of  the  com- 
munity. This  in  general  is  true,  but  there  are  also  features  in 
primitive  cultures  which  are  left  to  individual  decision  and  which 
require  careful  study.  One  of  these  is  geophagy,  the  causes  of 
which  lie  chiefly  in  the  physical  and  mental  constitution  of  the 
individual.  Imitation,  as  in  all  human  habits,  has,  of  course,  been 
a  powerful  factor  in  contributing  toward  the  expansion  of  the 
custom.  It  could  not  have  been  diffused  so  widely  all  over  India 
in  all  classes  of  the  population  unless  by  contamination  of  example. 
Again,  if  women  during  the  period  of  pregnancy  are  especially 
devoted  to  clay-eating  in  a  continuous  area — Persia,  India,  Malaysia, 
and  Melanesia — while  this  is  not  the  case  in  China,  Indo-China, 
Europe,  and  America,  we  must  believe  in  an  historical  dissemination 
over  the  aforementioned  area.  In  other  words — while,  on  the  one 
hand,  geophagy  may  spring  up  anywhere  spontaneously  and  inde- 
pendently, it  has,  on  the  other  hand,  assumed  certain  forms  which 
can  be  explained  only  through  contact  and  diffusion. 

Clay-eating,  consequently,  cannot  be  interpreted  as  a  racial 
characteristic  or  as  a  peculiar  trait  of  this  or  that  group  of  peoples, 
as  has  been  done  by  Sarat  Chandra  Mitra,  who  expressed  the  opin- 
ion, "It  seems  that  the  use  of  clay  for  food  is  more  confined  to  the 
Indian  branch  of  the  Aryan  race,  some  Dravidian  races  and  the 
various  peoples  belonging  to  the  Mongolian  stock,  than  to  any 
other  offshoot  of  the  Aryan  family  or  to  any  other  race."  This 
conclusion  has  also  been  antagonized  by  Hooper  and  Mann.  In 
fact,  the  custom  is  not  more  characteristic  of  one  tribe  than  of  the 
other  and  pervades  all  classes  of  Indian  society  without  distinction. 

Clay-eating  is  not  exclusively  a  poor  man's  habit  either.  In 
the  Panjab  "the  very  rich  and  the  very  poor  are  not  free  from  it" 
(Hooper  and  Mann,  p.  253).  In  Assam  "the  best  working  classes 
are  affected  by  it"  (ibid.,  p.  252).  It  is  likewise  as  common  in  the 
cities  of  India  as  among  the  peasantry;  it  prevails  among  all  castes, 
regardless  of  race  and  creed. 

There  is  a  medical  angle  to  this  subject  which  is  beyond  the 
scope  of  this  article.  It  has  been  suggested  that  geophagy  is  a 
symptom  of  ankylostomiasis  and  can  be  subdued  together  with 
this  disease  (H.  Prowe,  Zeitschrift  fur  Ethnologie,  1900,  p.  (354)). 
Which  is  the  cause  and  which  is  the  effect  seems  not  to  be  certain. 

Introduction  105 

Certain  it  is  that  cases  of  ankylostomiasis  do  occur  without  being 
accompanied  by  geophagy;  this  disease,  for  instance,  is  widely 
diffused  throughout  China  and  Formosa  (J.  L.  Maxwell,  Diseases 
of  China,  pp.  174-182;  G.  Olpp,  Beitrage  zur  Medizin  in  China, 
pp.  86-87),  but  neither  Maxwell  nor  Olpp  mentions  any  clay-eating 
on  the  part  of  patients.  There  is  a  disease  known  as  cachexia 
africana,  which  is  a  disorder  of  the  nutritive  functions  among 
Negroes  and  in  certain  kinds  of  disturbances  of  health  among 
women,  in  which  there  is  a  morbid  craving  to  eat  clay  (for  details 
see  p.  159).  This  so-called  pathological  geophagy  is  of  limited 
interest  to  the  ethnologist,  but  belongs  properly  to  the  domain 
of  the  physician.  That  inordinate  and  indiscriminate  clay-eating 
is  injurious  to  health  and  may  lead  to  untimely  death  is  obvious; 
even  a  Chinese  author  of  the  seventeenth  century  has  plainly 
pointed  it  out.  On  the  other  hand,  the  perils  of  the  indulgence 
have  been  overstated,  and  there  is  no  doubt  that  occasional  con- 
sumption of  diatomaceous  earth  or  a  sprinkling  of  earth  or  clay 
over  ordinary  food  is  harmless.  Again,  the  situation  is  not  the 
same  everywhere.  In  India,  where  the  habit  perhaps  is  more 
widely  spread  than  in  any  other  country  and  where  it  has  developed 
into  a  veritable  passion  with  many  individuals,  especially  women, 
the  appalling  effects  have  grown  proportionately.  Here  again, 
however,  experiences  recorded  as  to  ill  effects  of  clay-eating  vary 
a  great  deal.  One  observer  in  India  who  made  wide  inquiries  from 
women  habitually  eating  clay  was  invariably  informed  that  they 
experienced  no  ill  effect  whatever.  Another  correspondent  who 
has  known  numerous  instances  of  earth-addicts  in  Mysore  reports 
that  "the  habit  once  contracted  by  women  is  rarely,  if  ever,  aban- 
doned by  them,  and  is  invariably  followed  by  fatal  results" 
(Thurston,  p.  553). 

"Reports  are  almost  unanimous  in  stating  that  the  habit  when 
indulged  in  causes  anaemia.  Cases  of  intense  anaemia  are  recorded 
with  the  history  that  the  patients  were  perfectly  well  until  they 
took  to  mud-eating.  It  is,  however,  almost  certain  that  anaemia 
gives  rise  to  the  habit,  and  most  probable  that  the  habit  is  both 
the  cause  and  the  consequence  of  anaemia.  Clay  is  eaten  by  people 
who  are  already  anaemic,  and  the  more  they  eat  it,  the  more  anaemic 
they  become. 

"Earth-eaters  are  frequently  troubled  by  worms,  but  whether 
they  are  caused  by  earth-eating,  or  their  presence  is  a  contributory 
cause  of  the  habit,  is  not  quite  decided.    The  most  general  idea 

106  Geophagy 

among  medical  men  who  have  had  to  deal  with  large  numbers  of 
cases  is  that  anaemia  accompanied  by  morbid  gastric  sensations 
is  most  often  due  to  the  commencement  of  the  habit.  The  anaemia 
due  to  the  ankylostoma  worm  is  particularly  accompanied  by 
gastric  cravings.  Dr.  Brooks  says  it  may  or  may  not  cause 
ankylostomiasis  of  which  anaemia  is  in  his  districts  nearly  always 
a  symptom"  (Hooper  and  Mann,  p.  264). 

Clay-eating  is  seldom  openly  practised  and  does  not  belong  to 
the  obvious  things  lying  at  the  surface  that  would  come  within 
the  ordinary  traveler's  observation.  Many  natives  feel  that  the 
habit  displeases  the  white  man  and  will  keep  it  secret  or  are  loath 
to  talk  about  it.  It  is  reported  that  the  female  coolies  of  the  Cochin 
hills  "seem  to  be  ashamed  of  the  habit  and,  if  other  people  see  them 
eating  clay,  try  to  hide  it"  (Thurston,  p.  525). 

While  the  effects  of  geophagy  are  comparatively  easy  to  recog- 
nize, it  is  more  difficult  to  account  for  its  causes. 

Deniker  is  inclined  to  ascribe  the  habit  of  eating  earthy  sub- 
stances to  the  need  of  supplying  the  deficiency  of  mineral  substances 
(calcareous  or  alkaline  salts),  which  induces  the  use  of  salt.  F.  W. 
Krickeberg  (in  Buschan,  Vergl.  Volkerkunde,  I,  1922,  p.  146)  like- 
wise regards  the  craving  for  salt  as  the  cause  leading  to  geophagy. 

This  theory  is  most  improbable.  In  the  first  place,  the  clays 
consumed  by  man,  as  a  rule,  contain  no  salts,  or  if  so,  only  a  negli- 
gible quantity.  Second,  if  Deniker's  opinion  were  correct,  we  should 
justly  expect  that  the  maximum  of  clay-eating  would  be  reached 
by  people  who  command  little  or  no  salt  and  that  with  the  growth 
of  the  salt  supply  the  habit  of  clay-eating  would  proportionately 
decrease.  This,  however,  is  not  the  case.  To  cite  but  one  example — 
the  Iroquois  and  related  tribes  formerly  did  not  make  use  of  salt, 
but  nothing  is  known  about  clay-eating  on  their  part  (cf.  F.  W. 
Waugh,  Iroquois  Foods  and  Food  Preparation,  pp.  150-153,  Canada 
Geol.  Survey,  Memoir  86,  1916).  The  fact  remains  that  all  geo- 
phagists  have  access  to  salt,  and  probably  more  easily  than  to  clay. 
Hooper  and  Mann  (p.  263)  point  out  that  among  children  of  India 
the  salty  nature  of  the  ingredients  of  some  earths  is  the  recommenda- 
tion for  their  use,  but  add  judiciously,  "This,  however,  can  be  the 
reason  in  but  few  cases  of  the  habit."  In  another  passage  (p.  258) 
they  dissociate  completely  the  use  of  salt  earths  from  the  habit  of 
earth-eating,  contending  that  the  use  of  the  former  can  only  be 
referred  to  as  occurring  commonly  in  districts  where  salt  is  expensive. 
In  India,  accordingly,  earth-eating  and  the  use  of  salt  earth  are 

Introduction  107 

two  distinct  and  unrelated  phenomena.  The  same  is  the  case  in 
China.  In  ancient  China  a  great  amount  of  salt  was  obtained  from 
saline  earth  (J.  O.  von  Buschman,  Das  Salz,  II,  1906,  pp.  4,  9; 
F.  von  Richthofen,  China,  I,  1877,  p.  102),  but  such  saline  earth  was 
never  consumed,  while  other  kinds  of  earth  free  from  salt  were 
eaten  by  the  people.  The  same  situation,  again,  is  met  with  in  some 
parts  of  Africa  (Buschman,  II,  p.  278).  A  seeming  exception  occurs 
in  South  America.  Brazil  is  very  deficient  in  salt  (Buschman,  II, 
p.  413),  and  the  Indians  take  recourse  to  various  substitutes  for 
salt  in  preparing  their  food,  usually  by  burning  saline  plants  and 
using  the  salty  ashes;  sometimes  a  reddish  earth  which  has  the 
appearance  of  salt  ashes  is  resorted  to  for  the  same  purpose.  F. 
d'Azara,  who  traveled  in  South  America  from  1781  to  1801  (German 
translation  by  C.  Weyland,  1810,  p.  19),  has  some  interesting  notes 
on  a  salty  clay  (called  by  the  Spaniards  barrero)  craved  by  the 
grazing  cattle  which  cannot  be  kept  away  from  it  even  by  blows 
and  which  frequently  feed  on  it  to  such  an  excess  that  they  will  die. 
A  few  travelers  in  South  America  report  the  consumption  of  salty 
clay  on  the  part  of  Indians  in  lieu  of  salt,  but  the  notes  assembled 
in  the  chapter  on  South  America  (p.  184)  demonstrate  abundantly, 
that  the  widespread  habit  of  eating  non-salty  clays  throughout 
South  America  springs  from  causes  which  are  entirely  independent 
of  the  hunger  for  salt. 

H.  Schurtz  (Katechismus  der  Volkerkunde,  1893,  p.  21)  believes 
that  the  original  object  of  earth-eating  was  to  silence  the  hungry 
stomach  for  a  short  while  with  an  indigestible  morsel. 

Hooper  and  Mann  (p.  270)  are  inclined  to  attribute  the  cause 
of  geophagy  "primarily  to  the  purely  mechanical  effect  it  seems 
to  have  in  comforting  gastric  or  intestinal  irritation.  This  may 
or  may  not  be  due  to  disease;  if  it  is  so  due,  the  result  is  quickly 
to  aggravate  the  disease  it  is  taken  to  alleviate;  if  not,  it  rapidly 
produces  effects  which  bring  on  disease.  Gastric  or  similar  irrita- 
tion is  inseparable  from  certain  periods  in  a  woman's  life,  and  these 
are  precisely  the  periods  when  the  earth-eating  habit  is  contracted. 
Once  indulged  in,  the  wish  for  similar  alleviation  becomes  a  craving; 
and  the  habit,  as  is  usually  the  case  with  similar  ones,  strengthens 
itself,  and  brings  on  disease  of  the  digestive  canal.  In  the  cases 
where  men  indulge,  probably  the  habit  has  some  similar  origin." 

The  two  last  statements  quoted  assuredly  contain  some  ele- 
ments of  truth,  but  do  not  explain  all  the  phenomena  connected 
with  geophagy,  and  a  formula  applicable  to  the  subject  in  its  entire 

108  Geophagy 

range  can  hardly  be  found,  as  geophagy  appears  in  so  many  widely 
varying  forms.  It  is  best  to  emphasize  a  few  specific  cases.  When 
we  hear  that  the  Porno  Indians  of  California  mix  clay  with  acorn- 
meal,  their  staple  food,  we  may  at  first  be  inclined  to  dismiss  this 
case  as  an  unusual  or  queer  practice;  but  when  we  further  read 
that  exactly  the  same  thing  is  done  by  the  peasants  of  Sardinia, 
we  pause  and  think.  As  an  historical  contact  between  the  Porno 
and  Sardinians  is  out  of  the  question,  the  cause  for  this  practice 
can  only  be  physiological.  The  Zuni  swallow  a  bit  of  white  clay 
with  the  tubers  of  Solanum  fendleri,  and  it  has  been  suggested  that 
this  is  done  to  counteract  or  reduce  the  acridity  and  astringency 
of  the  tuber;  this  explanation  may  be  correct  as  far  as  it  goes, 
although  it  remains  unexplained  why  it  is  just  clay  that  is  resorted 
to  as  a  corrective.  This  is  a  matter  that  awaits  the  investigation 
of  a  physiologist. 

Chemical  analyses  of  edible  clays  are  all  right  as  far  as  they  go, 
but  are  of  no  great  utility  to  the  ethnologist  in  understanding  the 
problem.  Moreover,  most  of  the  analyses  made  date  a  considerable 
time  back  when  chemistry  was  not  yet  so  perfected  as  it  is  at 
present,  and  when  the  usual  conclusion  of  the  investigators  has 
been  that  the  clays  consumed  by  mankind  contain  neither  nutritive 
nor  medicinal  properties.  Maybe  this  is  true,  maybe  it  is  but 
partially  correct;  but  we  need  more  solid  and  renewed  information 
from  a  biochemist  and  physiologist,  in  the  light  of  modern  science, 
especially  as  to  the  effects  of  clays  on  the  human  organism.  If 
these  pages  should  have  the  good  fortune  to  attract  the  attention 
of  a  biochemist  and  physiologist  and  to  stimulate  them  to  a  fresh 
investigation  of  the  problems  involved,  I  should  feel  amply  rewarded 
for  the  trouble  and  time  I  have  taken  in  gathering  this  material 
from  all  parts  of  the  world;  but  it  must  be  studied  comparatively. 
It  cannot  be  fortuitous,  for  instance,  that  the  identical  phenomena 
appear  in  the  most  diverse  regions  and  peoples,  as  the  example  of 
the  Porno  and  Sardinians  just  mentioned,  or  the  craving  for  the 
bucaro  pottery  made  of  a  reddish,  odoriferous  clay  on  the  part  of 
Peruvian  and  Portuguese  women  alike. 

When  we  read  again  and  again  that  to  people  living  widely 
apart  certain  clays  have  an  agreeable  and  spicy  flavor  and  that 
they  are  attracted  to  them  irresistibly  and  experience  a  pleasant 
and  beneficial  effect  on  their  systems,  we  cannot  simply  brand  such 
folks  as  maniacs,  but  there  must  be  a  physiological  cause  for  such 

Introduction  109 

For  the  geophagy  of  the  pregnant  Lasch  (p.  219)  has  tried  to 
give  an  explanation  which  does  not  satisfy  me.  According  to  him, 
the  stomach  does  not  bear  substances  like  earth  and  clay,  which 
will  result  in  more  or  less  violent  vomitings  which  will  cause, 
especially  during  the  last  months  of  pregnancy,  contractions  of 
the  uterus  and  may  facilitate  delivery.  This  is  theoretical  specula- 
tion, but  is  not  based  on  really  observed  facts.  None  of  the  authors 
who  reports  the  craving  of  the  pregnant  for  clay  (and  this  is  chiefly 
the  case  in  Melanesia,  India,  and  certain  parts  of  Africa)  says  a 
word  about  vomiting,  while  the  majority  of  women  addicted  to 
clay-eating  take  it  habitually,  whether  pregnant  or  not;  it  is  only 
during  the  periods  of  menstruation  and  pregnancy  that  the  habit 
appears  more  intensified.  It  is  clear,  moreover,  that  a  woman 
would  not  enjoy  clay-eating  and  continue  the  habit  if  it  really 
operated  as  an  emetic.  It  is  curious  that  Lasch  himself  cites 
Modigliani,  who  refers  to  the  clay  eaten  by  the  Toba-Batak  of 
Sumatra,  as  saying  that  it  has  the  property  of  stopping  the  vomit- 
ing of  women  during  pregnancy — the  opposite  of  his  theory — and 
this  is  far  more  probable.  The  Greeks  used  the  earth  of  Samos 
as  a  means  of  stopping  the  vomiting  of  blood  (Dioscorides),  and 
the  Arabic  pharmacologists  recommended  the  clay  of  Nishapur  as 
a  good  remedy  to  relieve  or  stop  nausea  and  vomiting  (L.  Leclerc, 
Traite"  des  simples,  II,  p.  426). 

The  craving  for  earth  so  universally  displayed  by  infants  and 
young  children,  even  in  our  midst,  is  presumably  not  pathological, 
but  is  simply  due  to  insufficient  roughage  or  insufficient  mineral 
matter  in  their  regular  diet,  and  to  an  instinctive  desire  for  roughage, 
which  is  usually  supplied  by  wheat  bran,  potato-skins,  green  vege- 
tables, and  cereals.  The  case  is  known  to  me  of  a  man  (American) 
who  for  a  few  years  swallowed  two  teaspoonfuls  of  white  sand 
twice  a  day  and  declared  that  it  kept  him  feeling  fine  in  every 
respect;  then  he  developed  sarcoma  of  the  intestine  and  died; 
whether  the  sarcoma  was  caused  by  his  sand-eating  habit  has  not 
been  determined. 

Explanations  given  by  natives  for  earth-eating  must  be  taken, 
of  course,  with  a  grain  of  salt.  How  many  of  us  are  able,  if  the 
question  were  put  to  us  unceremoniously,  to  give  an  intelligent 
answer  as  to  why  we  use  salt  and  have  a  more  intense  craving  for 
salt  at  one  time  than  another.  The  common  explanation  given  by 
primitives  is  that  they  believe  earth  or  clay  is  good  for  them,  that 
it  benefits  the  stomach  and  promotes  digestion.    Others  are  satisfied 

110  Geophagy 

with  the  notion  that  it  has  a  pleasant  odor  and  taste,  that  it  tickles 
the  palate  and  gratifies  the  stomach;  others  are  merely  attracted 
by  the  peculiar  bright  colors  of  some  clays. 

It  seems  that  in  its  origin  geophagy  is  not  allied  with  religious 
ideas,  in  particular,  as  one  might  think,  with  the  worship  of  earth  as 
a  deity  or  the  notion  of  mother-earth.  China,  as  will  be  seen, 
affords  the  best  example  to  this  effect  (p.  125). 

It  is  curious  that  tribes  which  make  an  extensive  use  of  clays 
ceremonially,  for  instance,  in  body  painting,  do  not  take  to  eating 
it;  for  example,  the  Andamans  (A.  R.  Brown,  The  Andaman 
Islanders,  1922,  pp.  90,  99,  102,  106,  111,  122,  etc.)  and  the 
Cheyenne  (G.  B.  Grinnell,  The  Cheyenne  Indians,  1923,  II, 
pp.  235-236,  242). 

On  the  other  hand,  geophagy  frequently  enters  into  religious 
ceremonies,  notably  in  ancient  Mexico  and  among  some  Malayans, 
who  consume  earth  in  ordeals,  or  among  the  Chins  of  Burma  and 
the  Negroes  of  Barbados  who  swallow  it  in  affirmation  of  an  oath. 
In  China,  diatomaceous  earth  was  regarded  as  being  of  super- 
natural origin,  as  the  food  of  dragons  and  immortals;  and  the 
discovery  of  such  earth  was  hailed  as  a  happy  omen,  and  its  con- 
sumption could  not  fail  to  have  a  beneficial  effect  on  the  health  and 
welfare  of  pious  believers. 

Earth  is  also  eaten  by  animals.  Ehrenberg  (II  p.  19)  mentions 
a  case  of  earth-eating  horses  from  Africa.  Examples  are  known 
of  wolves  eating  earth.  Yet  Wilken's  theory  (Handleiding  van  der 
vergel.  volkenkunde  van  Ned.-Indie,  p.  21),  that  man  hit  upon 
the  idea  of  earth-eating  in  imitation  of  animals,  is  not  convincing 
and  must  be  rejected.  The  physiological  causes  driving  both 
animal  and  man  to  earth-eating  possibly  are  identical,  and  if  so, 
the  assumption  of  a  mutual  imitation  is  superfluous. 

I  wish  to  express  my  thanks  to  Dr.  S.  A.  Barrett,  Mr.  Elsdon 
Best,  Mr.  C.  Daryll  Forde,  Mr.  I.  Lopatin,  Mr.  Marshall  H. 
Saville,  Dr.  Frank  G.  Speck  and  Mr.  J.  Eric  Thompson  for  specific 
information.  Their  contributions  are  quoted  verbatim  under  their 
names  and  may  be  easily  traced  by  consulting  the  index. 


As  regards  geophagy  in  China,  three  different  ways  of  using 
earth  must  be  distinguished:  (1)  the  magical  method  of  the  Taoists, 
(2)  the  medicinal  employment,  (3)  earth  as  a  famine  food. 

In  European  literature  we  meet  only  a  few  casual  references 
to  the  subject  with  reference  to  China.  As  far  as  I  know,  Edouard 
Biot,  who  took  a  profound  interest  in  all  scientific  questions,  first 
called  attention  to  this  singular  phenomenon.  In  his  "Etudes 
sur  les  montagnes  et  les  cavernes  de  la  Chine,  d'apres  les  geographies 
chinoises"  (Journal  asiatique,  1840,  p.  290),  he  has  the  following 
observations: — 

"On  Mount  Lo-pao,  department  of  Lin-ngan  fu  (Yun-nan), 
the  mountain-people  make  the  earth  of  this  mountain  into  balls; 
it  is  fat  and  soft,  and  according  to  the  text  of  the  Kwang  yii  ki, 
they  feed  on  it  habitually." 

This  translation,  as  will  be  seen  presently,  is  not  exact.  The 
name  of  the  mountain  is  Lo-jung  $&  0k,  not  Lo-pao.  Biot  adds 
the  remark,  "This  is  a  new  example  of  the  depravation  of  taste 
observed  for  the  first  time  by  de  Humboldt  among  the  Ottomac." 

The  account  of  the  Kwang  yii  ki,  alluded  to  by  Biot,  which  is  a 
geographical  description  of  China,  is  as  follows:  "Mount  Lo-jung 
(or  yung)  ^  0k  iXl  is  south  of  the  prefectural  city  (Lin-ngan  fu 
Hi  55:  $f  in  Yun-nan).  The  earth  of  this  locality  has  a  fine  odor, 
and  is  made  into  cakes  used  for  purposes  of  cauterizing.  When 
cooked  (or  heated),  it  can  be  eaten.  The  women  of  the  P'o  Bf 
are  fond  of  it."  This  text  occurs  in  the  original  edition  of  the  work, 
published  in  1600  (chap.  21,  p.  6b),  as  well  as  in  the  subsequent 
reprints  of  1686  and  1744  (chap.  21,  p.  lib).  The  question  is  of 
an  edible  clay;  but  the  point  emphasized  by  Biot,  that  the  people 
feed  on  it  habitually,  is  not  directly  brought  out  by  the  text,  while 
he  makes  no  reference  to  the  P'o  tribe;  and  this  is  an  important 
feature.  It  is,  accordingly,  not  the  Chinese,  but  an  aboriginal 
tribe  of  T'ai  stock,  which  indulges  in  the  habit;  and,  again,  it  is 
especially  their  women,  who  have  developed  this  appetite.  A 
similar  reference  to  an  aboriginal  tribe  is  made  in  the  Nan  chao 
ye  shi:  "When  the  Li-su  suffer  hunger,  they  swallow  earth  mixed 
with  honey"  (C.  Sainson,  Histoire  particuliere  du  Nan-tchao, 
p.  181). 


112  Geophagy 

According  to  the  King  chou  ki  M  W  q£,  written  by  Sheng 
Hung-chi  #  3L  £.  in  the  fifth  century  A.D.,  there  is  in  the  district 
Wu-tang  li  ^  a  ravine  on  the  banks  of  which  there  is  a  clay  of 
fresh-yellow  color;  also  it  is  eatable  (T'ai  p'ing  yii  Ian,  chap.  37, 
p.  8).  It  is  not  stated,  however,  that  this  clay  was  actually  eaten, 
although  this  probably  was  the  case. 

The  Shen  sien  chuan  #  {ill  fit  attributed  to  Ko  Hung  of  the 
fourth  century,  contains  the  following  story: — 

"Wang  Lie  3E  JBl  lived  solitary  in  the  T'ai-hang  Mountains 
^C  4t  Ul  when  all  of  a  sudden  he  heard  a  crash  on  the  east  side 
of  the  mountain  and  the  -earth  rolling  like  thunder.  Lie  proceeded 
to  find  out  what  had  happened.  He  noticed  that  the  mountain 
was  cracked,  and  that  the  rocks  were  split  over  a  distance  of  a 
thousand  feet.  Both  sides  of  the  road  were  covered  with  green 
stones  exhibiting  holes  more  than  a  foot  in  diameter.  These  holes 
were  filled  with  a  green  mud  which  flew  out  like  marrow.  Lie 
took  a  sample  of  this  mud,  examined  it,  and  formed  it  into  a  pill. 
Instantaneously  it  became  hard  like  stone,  as  if  hot  wax  were 
formed,  and  hardened  immediately.  It  had  an  odor  like  boiled 
rice;  and  when  he  chewed  it,  it  also  tasted  like  rice.  Lie  collected 
several  such  pills  of  the  size  of  peaches.  He  took  these  along  and 
returned  to  Ki  Shu-ye  %&  $t  T£,  with  the  report  that  he  had  found 
a  strange  object.  Shu-ye,  very  pleased,  took  one  of  the  pills  and 
examined  it;  it  changed  into  a  green  stone,  and  when  struck,  gave 
a  sound  like  copper.  Shu-ye  then  went  along  with  Lie  to  inspect 
the  spot,  but  the  mountain  which  was  previously  torn  asunder 
had  resumed  its  normal  shape." 

There  are  several  mountains  bearing  the  above  name — two 
in  Shan-si  (in  P'ing-yang  fu  and  Tse  chou)  and  three  in  Ho-nan 
(in  Chang-te  fu,  Wei-hui  fu,  and  Hwai-k'ing  fu).  As  follows  from 
a  notice  in  the  Kwang  yii  ki  (chap.  6,  p.  26;  original  edition  of 
1600),  the  T'ai-hang  of  the  prefecture  of  Hwai-k'ing  is  hinted  at 
in  the  above  story;  for  an  abstract  of  it  is  given  under  the  name 
of  this  mountain. 

A  landslip  lh  %ft  in  the  T'ai-hang  is  reported  in  the  year  A.D.  265 
under  the  Emperor  Yuan  7C  ^  of  the  Wei  (T'ung  chi,  chap.  74, 
p.  29b),  and  it  is  plausible  that  this  catastrophe  forms  the  historical 
background  of  Ko  Hung's  story. 

The  Gazetteer  of  Yi-hing  S  H  S&  ^  has  this  story: — 

"As  to  Yao  Sheng  tyi  &,  it  is  unknown  from  what  place  he 
came.    Once  he  traveled  to  the  Chang-kung  Grotto  IJJt  &  M  and, 

China  113 

a  torch  in  his  hand,  entered  it.  There  he  met  two  Taoists  jE  J: 
seated  opposite  each  other  and  engaged  in  a  game  of  wei-k'i.  Sheng 
expressed  the  wish  to  obtain  some  food.  The  Taoists  pointed  to 
several  lumps  of  blue  (or  dark)  clay  or  mud  W  $&>  He  chewed  a 
morsel  of  it,  and  found  it  very  fragrant.  The  Taoists  then  bade 
him  go  and  not  speak  to  mortals  about  his  adventure.  Sheng 
bowed  and  thanked  them,  and  carried  away  in  his  bosom  the 
remains  of  the  clay.  He  left  the  grotto  and  met  Kia  Hu  M  &J, 
who  became  frightened  and  said,  'This  is  the  food  of  dragons. 
Clay  is  produced  in  grottoes,  in  the  same  manner  as  rocks.'  "  In  a 
Chinese  tale,  entitled  "The  Nine-headed  Bird,"  a  youth  meets  a 
dragon  in  its  cave  and  notices  it  lick  a  stone ;  the  youth,  tortured  by  the 
pangs  of  hunger,  follows  the  dragon's  example  and  no  longer  experi- 
ences hunger  (R.  Wilhelm,  Chinesische  Volksmarchen,  1927,  p.  14). 

Under  the  heading  t'u  fan  ±  IK  ("earth-rice"),  a  funda- 
mental document,  hitherto  not  indicated,  is  contained  in  the  K'ien 
shu  3£  #  ("Records  of  Kwei-chou  Province"),  written  by  T'ien 
Wen  ffl  S  (hao  Mung-chai  J§f  1§f).  In  the  edition  of  the  Yue  ya 
t'angts'ung  shu  (chap.  4,  pp.  25b-26b)  it  is  as  follows: — 

"During  the  period  Wan-li  (1573-1620)  of  the  Ming  dynasty, 
the  district  Tse-yang  M  (#  (in  the  prefecture  of  Yen-chou,  Shan- 
tung) was  struck  by  a  great  famine.  Suddenly  appeared  there  a 
Taoist  monk  with  a  star-cap,  gourd,  and  sword,  and  pointing  to 
a  lot  of  waste-land,  said,  'Beneath  this  spot  there  is  earth-rice, 
which  may  serve  as  food.'  He  vanished  at  once,  and  the  crowd 
regarded  him  as  a  strange  apparition.  The  people  dug  the  soil 
more  than  a  foot  deep,  and  found  earth  of  a  bluish  color,  which 
somewhat  had  a  flavor  like  grain.  The  famished  people  swallowed 
it  eagerly,  and  as  they  greatly  enjoyed  it,  quarrelled  about  the 
same  piece.  Several  thousand  men  took  so  much  of  this  earth 
away  that  it  resulted  in  a  pit  several  acres  wide  and  about  twenty 
feet  deep.  The  following  year,  when  wheat  had  matured,  the 
Taoist  monk  came  down  to  the  same  spot,  as  if  he  had  something 
to  fill  out  the  pit.  All  of  a  sudden  it  was  full,  and  again  the  people 
began  to  dig;  however,  they  found  nothing  but  sandy  earth  which 
could  not  be  eaten;  for  the  fairies  'fill  ^  are  crafty  and  make  such 
earth  only  to  help  men.  Further,  in  the  year  ping-tse  M  -f  of 
the  period  Tsung-cheng  (1636),  there  was  an  intense  drought 
north  of  the  Yang-tse,  and  in  the  Fung-yang  mountains  JH  Wi  ill 
this  earth  was  produced.  Many  people  depended  on  it  to  keep 
themselves  alive.    In  examining  the  records  of  K'ien  jS^  ;&,  I  find 

114  Geophagy 

that  for  a  number  of  years  and  in  former  times  people  used  to  dig 
earth  on  the  occasion  of  great  famines  and  to  subsist  on  it.  People 
unable  to  procure  food,  even  when  there  was  no  drought,  con- 
tinually consumed  such  earth;  nor  is  this  astounding  in  view  of 
the  poverty  of  the  populace  of  K'ien.  When  I  heard  of  this,  I 
was  moved  to  sympathy  with  the  people.  Then  I  searched  for  this 
earth  in  order  to  examine  it:  it  is  white  and  unctuous  like  rice  or 
meat-cakes.  I  tried  it  and  found  that  it  is  flat 'of  taste,  but  has 
no  special  characteristic.  It  is  swallowed  with  some  difficulty; 
when  it  has  reached  the  stomach,  however,  one  is  satiated,  but 
with  a  feeling  of  depression.  Excessive  eating  of  earth  will  cause 
obstructions  and  evil  effects,  and  will  ultimately  lead  to  death. 
Ordinarily,  people  doomed  to  death  from  starvation  have  no  leisure 
to  select  wherewith  to  fill  their  stomachs;  anything  is  appetizing 
to  them,  and  their  thoughts  are  occupied  day  and  night  with  devis- 
ing new  means  of  subsistence.  Those  who  escape  death  owe  it 
to  the  fact  that  they  had  mixed  other  things  with  the  clay.  This 
earth,  therefore,  is  not  to  be  regarded  very  highly,  and  does  not 
even  satisfy  as  much  as  chaff." 

It  is  obvious  that  the  specimen  of  white  clay  examined  by 
T'ien  Wen  is  not  identical  with  the  earth-rice  of  bluish  color  eaten 
by  the  people  at  the  instigation  of  a  Taoist  monk.  The  former 
was  a  common  inorganic  clay,  the  latter  a  kind  of  kieselguhr  con- 
taining organic  substances  and  in  principle  identical  with  the 
"stone  flour"  to  be  discussed  presently. 

A  substance  shi  mien  ^5  H  ("stone  meal"  or  "mineral  flour")  is 
mentioned  by  Li  Shi-chen  in  his  Pen  ts'ao  kang  mu  (chap.  9, 
p.  22b)  published  at  the  end  of  the  sixteenth  century.  Apparently, 
it  is  not  pointed  out  in  any  previous  Pen  ts'ao.  "Shi  mien  is  not  a 
substance  of  ordinary  growth,  but  is  an  object  of  good  augury  ^5  %. 
According  to  some,  it  is  produced  only  in  times  of  famine.  In  the 
third  year  of  the  period  T'ien-pao  Ji  j|  (a.d.  744),  under  the  reign  of 
Hiian  Tsung  of  the  T'ang  dynasty,  in  the  districts  Wu-wei  jl£  fflL  and 
P'an-ho  #7^1$  [in  Liang-chou  fu,  Kan-su],  a  sweet  spring  suddenly 
arose  and  brought  forth  stones,  which  were  transformed  into  flour.1 
This  was  taken  and  eaten  by  the  poor.    In  the  fourth  year  of 

1  Inexact  and  incomplete  translations  of  the  text  of  the  Pen  ts'ao  have  been 
given  by  Biot  (p.  216),  Schott  (in  Ehrenberg  I  p.  145),  and  F.  de  Mely  (Lapidaire 
chinois,  p.  101).  Biot  translates,  "Une  source  miraculeuse  sortit  de  terre,"  omitting 
the  geographical  names  entirely.  Schott  renders,  "A  source  in  Wu-jin  (now 
Liang-chou  fu)  threw  stones  out."  De  Mely  has,  "La  source  de  Li  produisit 
une  pierre";  in  his  translation,  based  on  the  unreliable  text  of  the  San  ts'ai  t'u 
hui  (also  utilized  by  Biot),  all  geographical  names  are  eliminated,  which  renders 

China  115 

the  period  Yuan-ho  X  IP  (a.d.  810),  in  the  mountain  valleys  of 
the  three  chou— Yiin,  Wei,  and  Tai— of  Shan-si  lif  ©  M  &  ft  H  W, 
stones  were  transformed  into  flour,  which  was  consumed  by  the 
people.  In  the  fourth  month  of  the  fifth  year  of  the  period  Siang-fu 
M  %f  (a.d.  1012),  under  the  reign  of  the  Emperor  Chen  Tsung  of  the 
Sung  dynasty,  there  was  a  famine  in  the  populace  of  Ts'e  chou  |£  iW 
[now  Ki  chou  l=f  W  in  P'ing-yang  fu,  Shan-si];  the  mountains  in 
the  district  Hiang-ning  #5  1f£  S£  [in  P'ing-yang  fu]  produced  a 
greasy  substance  on  stones  like  flour,  which  could  be  made  into 
cakes  and  eaten.  In  the  third  month  of  the  seventh  year  of  the 
period  Kia-yu  M  *fi  (a.d.  1062), l  under  the  Emperor  Jen  Tsung, 
the  soil  around  P'eng-ch'eng  s^  M  [in  Chi-li]  produced  flour;  in 
the  fifth  month  [of  the  same  year]  the  soil  in  the  district  of  Chung-li 
M  j$  [in  the  prefecture  of  Fung-yang,  An-hwi]  produced  flour.    In 

the  information  valueless  for  scientific  purposes,  and  the  Chinese  dates  are  not 
even  correlated  with  those  of  our  chronology.  As  the  above  quotation  relates  to 
the  T'ang  period,  it  is  necessary  to  consult  the  geographical  section  of  the  T'ang 
Annals  in  order  to  understand  this  terminology.  There  we  find  (T'ang  shu,  chap. 
40,  pp.  7b-8a)  that  the  district  Wu-wei  jt£  J§£  f$  in  Liang  chou  ^  »JU  was  divided 
into  six  fu  Jft;  namely,  Ming-wei  HJ§  Jjj£,  Hung-ch'i  gfc  ^,  P'an-ho  ^  ^, 
Wu-ngan  j£  £,  Li-shwi  |g  7JC,  and  Ku-ts'ang  #f  %$.;  in  the  year  a.d.  744,  a 
hill  came  forth  from  under  a  sweet  spring  (li  ts'iian),  and  in  consequence  of  this 
event  the  name  was  changed  into  T'ung-hua  ij'ffc. — -The  natural  event,  as 
described  above,  was  doubtless  caused  by  a  landslip.  In  48  B.C.,  we  read  (T'ung 
chi,  chap.  74,  p.  29),  mountains  collapsed  in  Lung-si  (Kan-su),  and  water-springs 
burst  forth  to  the  surface  ( ll]  j^  7jt  ^  ?SJ  tfj )  •  The  same  Phrase  (7jC  fS  Hi) 
occurs  in  two  passages  of  the  Hou  Han  shu  (chap.  26,  pp.  3b,  4)  in  connection 
with  landslips. — The  "sweet  spring"  (li  ts'iian  g§  ^  )  was  prominent  among 
the  phenomena  of  good  augury.  It  was  regarded  as  the  essence  of  water,  of 
sweet  and  fine  taste,  and  was  believed  to  come  forth  only  at  a  time  when  the 
sovereign  practised  righteous  principles.  This  first  happened  in  A.D.  25  under 
the  Emperor  Kwang  Wu  of  the  Han,  when  those  suffering  from  chronic  diseases 
and  partaking  of  this  water  were  all  cured.  It  appeared  again  in  the  beginning 
of  the  reign  of  the  Emperor  Wen  of  the  Wei  and  in  a.d.  435  under  Wen  of  the 
Liu  Sung  dynasty  (Sung  shu,  chap.  29,  p.  41).  In  A.D.  1008  a  sweet  spring  came 
forth  on  the  T'ai-shan  (Shan-tung  t'ung  chi,  chap.  63,  p.  8);  and  in  the  same 
year,  the  same  event  is  reported  in  Ju  chou  $j]  <Jf|,  Ho-nan  (Ju  chou  ts'iian  chi, 
chap.  9,  p.  63).  A  li  ts'iian  with  a  wine-like  aroma  exists  on  the  sacred  Hwa-shan 
in  Shen-si  (Hwa  yo  ts'iian  tsi,  ed.  1597,  chap.  2,  p.  3).  Li  is  not  the  name  of  a 
river,  as  conceived  in  de  M&y's  work,  but  li  ts'iian  designates  only  "a  spring  of 
sweet  water  of  miraculous  origin." 

xThe  date  is  erroneous.  The  passage  is  copied  from  the  Sung  shi  (chap.  66, 
p.  18),  where  the  date  is  given  as  the  first  year  of  Kia-yu  (a.d.  1056).  Moreover, 
the  locality  is  more  exactly  defined  as  the  village  Pai-hao  £)  $F|  in  the  district 
P'eng-ch'eng;  and  it  is  added,  "The  soothsayers  stated,  'When  the  earth  produces 
flour,  the  people  will  be  stricken  by  hunger.'  " 

116  Geophagy 

the  fifth  month  of  the  third  year  of  the  period  Yuan-fung  %  H 
(a.d.  1080),  under  the  reign  of  Shen  Tsung,  all  stones  in  Lin-k'ii 
RI  $J  and  Yi-tu  ft  ffl,  in  the  prefecture  of  Ts'ing-chou  ^  W  [Shan- 
tung] were  transformed  into  flour,  gathered  and  eaten  by  the  people. 
Inquiring  into  this  phenomenon,  it  must  be  accounted  for  by  the 
desire  to  secure  food.  As  to  the  taste  of  this  substance,  it  is  sweet 
and  non-poisonous.  As  to  its  healing  powers,  it  benefits  the  breath; 
and  eaten,  when  mixed  with  other  things,  it  stops  hunger." 

Li  Shi-chen  does  not  state  that  he  has  ever  seen  or  examined 
this  substance;  and  in  view  of  his  assertion  that  it  does  not  ordinarily 
occur  in  nature,  but  appears  in  a  prodigious  or  miraculous  manner, 
this  is  not  even  probable.  It  is  no  longer  known  in  China  under 
this  name,  and  is  not  given,  for  instance,  in  the  "List  of  Medicines," 
published  by  the  Imperial  Maritime  Customs.  Li  Shi-chen  seems 
to  be  the  only  author  who  has  reference  to  this  matter,  for  the 
T'u  shu  tsi  ch'eng  cites  no  other  text  under  this  heading.  There  is 
no  description  of  the  substance  preserved;  and  what  it  was,  must 
remain  more  or  less  a  matter  of  guesswork.  Read  and  Pak  (Minerals 
and  Stones,  Peking  Soc.  of  Nat.  Hist.  Bull,  III,  pt.  2,  1928,  No.  72) 
also  give  shi  mien  as  unidentified. 

We  may  positively  state,  however,  what  it  was  not:  it  was  not 
a  famine-food.  The  intimation  that  it  only  appears  in  famine- 
times  is  a  gratuitous  speculation;  for  under  the  dates  recorded  there 
were  no  famines,  nor  is  it  said  that  the  people  were  driven  by  hunger 
to  eat  this  substance;  they  ate  it,  simply  because  it  was  found  and 
thought  to  be  eatable.  On  the  other  hand,  in  the  numerous  records 
of  famines  under  the  Sung  dynasty,  it  is  not  stated  in  a  single 
case  that  people  subsisted  on  this  mineral  flour.  On  the  contrary, 
whenever  food-substitutes  are  mentioned  in  such  cases,  they  are 
given  as  leaves,  wood,  roots,  chaff,  ferns,  mosses,  rats,  and  human  flesh. 

A.  J.  C.  Geerts  (Produits  de  la  nature  japonaise  et  chinoise, 
1883,  p.  388)  has  a  brief  notice  on  shi  mien  (Japanese  seki-men), 
saying  that  he  has  in  his  collection  under  this  name  a  grayish  white 
friable  clay  coming  from  Iwakimura  in  the  province  of  Kaga  and 
not  containing  organic  matters.  "Mixed  with  flour,"  he  adds, 
"this  is  eaten  in  China  in  times  of  famine  as  a  supplement  of  an 
insufficient  nutrition,  but  it  appears  that  in  Japan  where  bad 
harvests  are  fortunately  much  more  seldom  than  in  China  geophagy 
is  not  practised."  This  statement  lacks  sense  and  logic.  If  the 
Japanese  abstain  from  eating  earth,  how  is  any  one  to  know  that  a 
clay  specimen  from  Japan  is  edible  and  how  is  it  possible  to  assert 

China  117 

that  this  Japanese  specimen  is  identical  with  the  Chinese  "stone 
meal"?  As  a  matter  of  fact,  the  former  has  nothing  to  do  with 
the  latter,  and  Geerts'  note  is  no  contribution  to  the  problem. 

In  my  opinion  the  "stone  meal"  of  the  Chinese  is  a  fossil  earth 
or  kieselguhr,  akin  to  the  "mountain  meal"  of  Germany  (p.  168). 

The  last  of  the  events  mentioned  by  Li  Shi-chen  is  also  referred 
to  by  a  contemporary  writer,  Wang  P'i-chi  IE  M  ;£,  in  his  Sheng 
shwi  yen  Van  lu  M  ?K  $&  l£  #fc  (chap.  9,  p.  19,  and  chap.  10,  p.  9b), 
written  toward  the  end  of  the  eleventh  century.  This  author  reports 
a  famine  which  took  place  in  Lin-tse  Sis  M,  in  the  prefecture  of 
Ts'ing-chou  pf  #1  (Shan-tung),  during  the  period  Yiian-fung  (a.d. 
1078-86);  it  then  happened  that  in  the  mountains  and  plains  grew 
everywhere  a  white  flour  and  white  stone  6  H  6  ^J  like  lime 
M,  but  unctuous;  the  people  obtained  several  tens  of  hu  ffi  of  this 
substance  and  mixed  it  with  flour  made  into  gruels  and  cakes,  which 
could  be  eaten  and  proved  very  helpful.  The  author  assures  us  that 
he  made  this  observation  with  his  own  eyes. 

Under  the  heading  Kwan-yin  fen  H  If  $r  ("powder  or  flour  of 
Kwan-yin,"  Avalokitecvara),  the  Pen  ts'ao  kang  mu  shi  i  (chap.  2, 
pp.  28b-29b;  written  by  Chao  Hio-min  in  1650),  which  is  a  supple- 
ment to  the  Pen  ts'ao  kang  mu,  gives  the  following  additional  infor- 
mation on  edible  clays: — 

"According  to  the  Gazetteer  of  Ch'u-chou  fu  M  W  iff  i^  [in 
Che-kiang],  there  is  a  white  clay  of  muddy  appearance  in  the  Yun-ho 
Mountains  if  In  Ul.  It  is  mixed  with  water  and  beaten  on  a  stone; 
flour  of  glutinous  rice  is  added,  the  proportions  being  half  and  half. 
This  compound  is  steamed  and  consumed.  It  is  capable  of  appeasing 
hunger,  and  is  called  Kwan-yin  flour. 

"There  is  an  earth  or  clay  produced  in  mountains,  which  in  its 
interior  is  as  white  as  flour,  very  fine  and  glossy.  In  years  of  dearth  the 
villagers  hastily  dig  it  up,  mix  it  with  wheaten  flour,  and  bake  the  mass 
into  cakes  which  they  use  as  food.  But  moderation  must  be  observed ; 
in  case  too  much  is  eaten,  there  is  danger  of  the  belly  being  closed, 
as  the  natural  properties  of  this  clay  are  apt  to  obstruct  the  stomach 
and  bowels.  Earth  produced  in  caves  must  not  be  administered 
for  fear  lest  it  might  be  poisoned  with  the  saliva  of  venomous  snakes. 

"Cheng  Chung-k'wei  M  #  ^,  in  his  Leng  ch'ang  tai  ?p  H  iSc, 
tells  this  story:  In  the  year  ping-tse  N  -f  there  was  a  dearth  in  the 
villages  I-yang  and  Shi-wo.  The  Buddhist  monk  in  charge  of  the 
temple  there  had  a  dream  in  which  the  Mahasatva  %  ±  announced 

118  Geophagy 

that  in  the  soil  at  the  foot  of  the  mountain  there  was  a  mineral  flour 
(shifen  7&  Wt),  which  might  be  taken  to  satisfy  hunger.  In  accordance 
with  these  words  he  set  out  to  dig  and  obtained  this  mineral  flour, 
which  was  very  much  like  fern  flour  (kite  fen  fl$  Ifr).1  He  ground  it 
finely  and  made  it  into  cakes  which  were  steamed  until  well  cooked 
and  of  pleasant  taste,  quite  unusual.  The  villagers,  as  soon  as 
they  received  the  news,  vied  with  one  another  to  gather  this  flour. 
Some  placed  it  in  cabbage  oil  which  made  it  so  bitter  that  it  was 
unfit  to  eat.  This  substance  was  what  is  called  'flour  of  the  Maha- 
satva'  (to  shi  fen  jt  dr  $K). 

"The  mineral  flour  discussed  in  the  section  'Stones'  of  the  Pen 
ts'ao  kang  mu  is  exactly  the  same.  It  is  regarded  as  something  extra- 
ordinary and  grows  imperceptibly.  Now  everywhere  in  mountains 
there  are  lakes  on  the  banks  of  which  is  found  a  kind  of  earth  that 
has  curative  properties,  inasmuch  as  it  stops  hunger,  benefits  the 
breath,  and  adjusts  the  inner  organs.  When  eaten,  it  stops  hunger 
unconsciously.  It  has  the  merit  of  removing  moisture,  and  in  this 
respect  is  superior  to  ts'ang  shu  Hr  tIl  (Atractylis  sp.),  for  even  earth 
may  perform  the  function  of  the  element  water.  Its  taste  is  a  bit 
sweet  and  bitter;  its  nature  is  even,  it  neutralizes  poison  caused  by 
insects,  it  cures  dropsy,  clears  the  eyes  and  heals  jaundice  caused 
by  moisture." 

In  the  Gazetteer  of  the  district  of  Hwa-yang,  which  with  Ch'eng- 
tu  forms  the  prefectural  city  of  Ch'eng-tu  and  capital  of  Se-ch'wan 
Province  (Hwa-yang  Men  chi,  chap.  43,  p.  3),  it  is  reported  that 
"in  the  forty-ninth  year  of  K'ien-lung  (1784)  an  ochre-colored  earth 
was  produced  in  the  town  of  Hwa-yang  and  that  the  people  picked 
it  up  and  ate  it,  as  it  was  as  fine  as  flour."  There  was  no  famine  at 
that  time,  and  there  was  no  necessity  of  consuming  this  earth.  It 
simply  appealed  to  the  people  for  the  reason  that  the  appearance  of 
this  earth  was  an  unusual  natural  occurrence  and  that  it  was  dis- 
tinguished as  to  color,  fineness,  and  possibly  flavor. 

An  allusion  to  "mineral  flour"  is  perhaps  contained  in  the 
following  tradition  which  is  pointed  out  by  J.  F.  Davis  (On  the 
Poetry  of  the  Chinese,  p.  95,  Macao,  1834),  but  which  I  have  not 
been  able  to  verify  from  Chinese  records.  "When  Yung-lo  usurped 
the  whole  empire  (a.d.  1403),  one  of  his  nephews,  the  proper  heir, 
shaved  his  head,  and  assuming  the  habit  of  a  priest,  retired  to  the 

xThe  young  shoots  of  some  kinds  of  fern  are  eaten,  and  a  kind  of  arrow-root 
is  made  from  the  rhizomes,  which,  after  proper  washing  and  cooking,  are  also 
eaten,  in  spite  of  their  bitterness — only  as  substitutes  in  times  of  famine  (G.  A. 
Stuart,  Chinese  Materia  Medica,  p.  173). 

China  119 

depths  of  the  mountains.  The  living  rock  there  opened,  and  poured 
out  a  constant  supply  of  grain  for  the  support  of  the  royal  refugee. 
After  his  death,  the  miracle  still  went  on,  until  a  covetous  priest, 
not  satisfied  with  the  quantity  of  grain  thus  obtained,  enlarged  the 
hole  or  fissure  in  the  stone  through  which  it  flowed — when  the 
supply  immediately  stopped  altogether,  as  the  proper  reward  of 
his  cupidity." 

Rockhill  (J.  R.  A.  S.t  1891,  p.  267)  was  informed  that  an  eatable 
clay  is  found  in  holes  in  the  low  ground  near  the  river  at  Wu-tai 
shan  in  Shan-si. 

From  the  notices  of  the  Pen  ts'ao  kang  mu  and  Pen  ts'ao  kang 
mu  shi  i  it  follows  that  medicinal  properties  also  were  attributed  to 
edible  clays.  Li  Shi-chen  has  devoted  chapter  VII  of  his  work  to 
earthy  and  clayish  substances,  discussing  sixty-one  species  and 
their  administration  in  the  pharmacopoeia.  This  subject  belongs  to 
the  history  of  pharmacology  and  has  no  direct  bearing  on  geophagy; 
these  medicinal  clays  were  administered  in  small  quantities  in  the 
form  of  pills,  and  were  usually  blended  with  other  ingredients. 
Such  pills  surely  were  not  capable  of  leading  one  into  a  habit  of  or 
passion  for  earth-eating.  In  this  connection,  however,  attention 
must  be  drawn  to  the  fact  that  it  was  the  Taoists  again  who 
inaugurated  the  employment  of  earth  as  a  remedy  against  disease. 
There  is  a  story  of  a  Taoist,  Ch'en  Nan  ffl.  $i  by  name,  who  was 
possessed  of  the  power  of  curing  disease  with  a  medicine  which 
he  made  by  kneading  earth  and  charmed  water  together  into  a 
bolus.  In  consequence  he  was  nicknamed  by  his  contemporaries 
Ch'en  Ni-wan  &.  U  %;  that  is,  Mud-pill  Ch'en  (cf.  W.  P.  Yetts, 
New  China  Review,  I,  1919,  p.  17). 

Rains  of  earth  are  also  recorded  in  Chinese  chronicles,  thus  in 
1098  B.C.  in  the  Bamboo  Annals  (E.  Biot,  Tchou  chou  ki  nien,  1842, 
p.  29);  others  during  the  period  Shi-yuan  (86-80  B.C.),  in  a.d.  503, 
535  ("yellow  dust"),  536,  550  ("yellow  sand"),  580  ("yellow  earth"), 
and  582  ("earth") ;  see  T'ung  chi  *§.  J&,  chap.  74,  p.  4.  In  no  case 
is  it  recorded,  however,  that  such  earth  was  consumed,  presumably 
because  an  earth  rain  was  considered  an  evil  augury. 

Ehrenberg  (I  p.  144)  has  analyzed  two  specimens  of  edible 
earth  from  China.  One  of  these,  a  white  earth,  he  received  from  A. 
von  Humboldt,  while  the  latter  resided  in  Paris,  and  forwarded 
from  China  to  Paris  by  French  missionaries.  The  other  specimen 
was  a  yellow  earth  which  Ehrenberg  obtained  in  1847  from  one  of 

120  Geophagy 

the  large  geological  collections  of  London  and  which  proved  to  be 
a  sort  of  loam. 

The  text  quoted  above  from  the  K'ien  shu  demonstrates  clearly 
that  clay  also  served  occasionally  as  a  famine  food  and  that  it  was 
a  Taoist  monk  who  pointed  it  out  to  the  populace.  It  must  be 
emphasized,  however,  that,  comparatively  speaking,  geophagy  has 
been  a  very  rare  occurrence  in  China  in  times  of  famine. 

Famines,  droughts,  inundations,  and  other  similar  catastrophes, 
to  which  the  country  has  so  frequently  been  subject,  are  listed 
with  minute  care  in  the  chapters  of  the  Annals,  entitled  Wu  hing 
chi  3l  fr  ^  ("Records  relating  to  the  Five  Elements")-  In  the 
majority  of  cases,  merely  the  fact  of  a  famine  is  recorded  under  a 
given  year  (see,  for  instance,  Sung  shu,  chap.  34,  p.  31;  and  T'ang  shu, 
chap.  34,  p.  14),  while  food-substitutes  used  in  famines  are  but  seldom 
mentioned  in  the  Annals.  The  gruesome  phrase  A  ^  Jt  ("men  ate 
one  another")  recurs  constantly.  In  A.D.  939,  when  locusts  ravaged 
the  fields  of  Chu  chou  ^  jW  (Shan-tung),  the  people  were  forced  to 
subsist  on  grass  and  leaves  (Kiu  Wu  tai  shi,  chap.  141,  p.  6  b). 

In  A.D.  1127  when  the  city  of  Pien-liang  (now  K'ai-fung, 
capital  of  Ho-nan  Province)  was  stricken  by  a  great  famine,  the 
price  of  a  pint  of  rice  soared  to  three  hundred  copper  coins,  a  single 
rat  reached  a  high  mark  of  several  hundred  copper  coins,  and 
people  subsisted  on  aquatic  plants  and  leaves  of  trees  like  Sophora 
japonica  (Sung  shi,  Annals  of  the  Sung  Dynasty,  chap.  67,  p.  2). 
In  A.D.  1148  when  the  eastern  part  of  Che-kiang  Province  was 
visited  by  a  famine,  food  was  reduced  to  distillers'  grains,  chaff, 
grass,  and  wood  (ibid.).  In  A.D.  1640  there  prevailed  a  drought, 
locust-plague,  and  in  consequence  a  famine  in  Ju  chou  $H  ;W 
(Ho-nan)  when  leaves  of  cotton-trees  and  other  plants  sold  for  a 
hundred  copper  coins  the  catty;  crows  and  magpies  deserted  the 
country  and  flew  southward,  leaving  their  nests  empty  (Ju  chou 
ts'uan  chi,  chap.  9,  p.  63).  We  read  also  that  people  driven  by 
hunger  gnawed  at  crossbows  or  even  boiled  shoes,  armor,  leather, 
or  sinews. 

Grass,  foliage,  weeds,  wild  herbs,  and  tree-bark  have  always  been 
the  principal  food-substitutes  in  famine  times  up  to  the  present  day. 
The  best  known  historical  example  of  recent  times  is  the  so-called 
"sweet  dew"  (kan  lu)  consumed  by  the  T'ai-p'ing  rebels  during  the 
siege  of  Nanking  in  1863.  Li  Siu-ch'eng  ^  ^  $t,  the  so-called 
Chung  Wang  fo  ZE  ("King  of  Loyalty"),  as  he  tells  in  his  memoirs, 
induced  the  T'ien  Wang  ("The  Heavenly  King"),  the  leader  of  the 

China  121 

T'ai-p'ings  (Hung  Siu-ts'iian  $£  ^  Jk),  to  issue  a  decree  with 
suggestions  to  meet  the  distress  of  the  famished  population.  "The 
decree  was  that  they  should  eat  'sweet  dew'  in  order  to  support 
themselves,  whereupon  I  asked,  'How  can  they  subsist  on  sweet 
dew?'  The  T'ien  Wang  replied,  'Let  them  take  of  the  things  which 
the  earth  brings  forth' — this,  it  appears,  was  what  he  called  'sweet 
dew.'  In  concert  with  others  I  then  represented  that  such  was  not 
a  fit  article  for  food,  whereupon  the  T'ien  Wang  observed,  'Bring 
some  here,  and  after  preparing  it,  I  will  partake  of  some  first.'  As  no 
one  complied  with  his  request,  he  gathered  several  herbs  from  his  own 
palace  garden  and,  having  made  them  up  into  a  ball,  he  sent  the 
ball  outside  with  orders  to  the  people  to  prepare  their  food  in  like 
manner  ....  Three  or  four  years  prior  to  the  present  crisis  orders 
had  been  issued  to  each  household  to  collect  ten  piculs  of  'sweet 
dew,'  and  deliver  it  into  the  treasury.  Some  obeyed  and  contributed 
their  quota,  others  did  not.  The  T'ien  Wang  for  many  days  ate 
this  stuff  in  his  palace,  and  if  my  chief  could  do  so,  there  was  no 
reason  why  I  should  not  do  the  same"  (The  Autobiography  of  the 
Chung  Wang,  translated  from  the  Chinese  by  W.  T.  Lay,  p.  62, 
Shanghai,  1865). 

Some  examples  of  geophagy  in  times  of  famine,  which  have  come 
to  my  notice,  may  now  follow.  Such  cases  have  occurred  indeed, 
though  rarely,  and  clay  has  been  the  last  resort  of  the  people  when 
all  other  means  of  subsistence  were  exhausted. 

The  Kiu  hwang  hwo  min  shu  <fc  %t  f£  Be  HF  is  a  monograph 
dealing  with  famines,  droughts,  and  other  catastrophes  and  the 
means  employed  on  such  occasions  in  saving  human  life.  This  work 
was  written  under  the  Sung  by  Tung  Wei  31  ^  (title  Ki-hing 
^s  £$■),  who  graduated  as  tsin  ski  in  A.D.  1194,  and  has  been  reprinted 
in  the  collection  Ch'ang  en  shu  shi  It  W-  #  Hf  published  in  1854. 
Several  examples  of  geophagy  during  times  of  famine  are  cited  in 
this  book  (chap,  $p  *a,  pp.  2  and  11).  Thus,  in  A.D.  618,  at  a  time 
of  scarcity,  people  gathered  bark  and  leaves  of  trees,  or  pounded 
straw  into  a  powder,  or  baked  earth  and  ate  it. 

It  once  happened  under  the  T'ang  (a.d.  618-906),  when  military 
forces  besieged  Lo-yang  and  supplies  were  exhausted  in  the  city, 
that  people  ate  grass,  roots,  and  leaves.  When  all  this  was  finished, 
they  subsisted  on  cakes  made  from  pulverized  rice  dipped  in  float- 
ing mud.  All  fell  ill,  their  bodies  swelled,  and  their  feet  weakened 
until  finally  they  died.     In  the  period  K'ien-tao  (a.d.  1165-74), 

122  Geophagy 

when  a  great  famine  prevailed  in  Kiang-si,  there  were  people  who 
ate  white  clay  (pai  shan  t'u  fi  £§  ±)  and  choked  to  death. 

It  is  on  record  in  the  Wu  Tai  shi  3l  ft  &  (Annals  of  the  Five 
Dynasties  of  the  tenth  century):  "When  the  town  Ts'ang  chou 
tt  ^H  was  besieged  by  Liu  Shou-kwang  §>J  *&  t£  [he  died  in  a.d. 
912],  the  inhabitants  ate  pieces  of  clay  mixed  with  their  food"  $£  & 
31  *&  (cf.  Couvreur,  Dictionnaire  classique  chinois,  p.  172). 

In  the  Gazetteer  of  the  District  of  Wen  shwi  ~%  ?Jc  (Wen  shwi 
hien  chi,  chap.  1,  p.  7b),  in  the  prefecture  of  T'ai-yiian  in  Shan-si 
Province,  it  is  on  record  that  in  a.d.  1586  there  was  no  rain  during 
the  entire  year,  so  that  a  huge  famine  prevailed  and  people  ate 
grass,  roots,  and  white  clay  or  kaolin  (pai  t'u  fi  ±),  with  a  very 
large  number  of  dead  in  consequence. 

In  1834  the  Chinese  missionary  Mathieu-Ly,  stationed  in  the 
province  of  Kiang-si,  reported  in  the  Annates  de  la  Propagation  de 
la  Foi  (No.  XLVIII,  1836,  p.  85),  "Several  of  our  Christians  will 
surely  die  of  starvation  this  year  [1834].  God  only  can  remedy  so 
many  and  so  great  needs.  All  crops  have  been  swept  away  by  the 
inundation  of  the  rivers.  For  three  years  numerous  people  feed 
on  the  bark  of  a  tree  which  grows  here;  others  eat  a  light,  white 
earth  discovered  in  a  mountain.  This  earth  can  only  be  bought  for 
silver,  so  that  not  every  one  is  able  to  procure  it.  The  people  first 
sold  their  wives,  then  sons  and  daughters,  then  their  utensils  and 
furniture;  finally  they  demolished  their  houses  in  order  to  dispose 
of  the  timber.  Many  of  them  were  wealthy  four  years  ago." 
Reporting  on  the  great  famine  which  overtook  Shen-si  Province 
in  1900-01,  F.  H.  Nichols  (Through  Hidden  Shensi,  p.  232)  states, 
"In  order  to  buy  food  the  farmers  sold  first  their  scanty  stock  of 
furniture  and  farming  tools,  then  the  roofs  of  their  houses,  and, 
lastly,  their  children." 

"Regarding  the  straits  as  to  food  to  which  the  sufferers  by 
famine  were  put,  various  details  are  given.  As  a  general  rule,  when 
famine  was  at  its  height,  the  sufferers  from  it,  as  long  as  they  were 
able  to  do  so,  were  in  the  habit  of  gathering  grass,  weeds,  and 
other  herbage  they  could  find  in  the  fields,  and  of  eating  these 
alone,  or  with  such  scanty  supplies  of  better  food  as  they  were 
able  to  get.  Others  betook  themselves  to  a  soft  clayey  slate,  which 
for  a  time  allayed  the  pangs  of  hunger,  but  had  a  very  injurious 
effect  upon  them.  Those  who  had  bean-cake,  cotton  seeds,  and 
grass  seeds  swept  from  the  roadsides,  or  bark  and  dried  leaves, 
were  considered  fortunate.     In  Shan-si  stone-cakes  were  somewhat 

China  123 

extensively  made  use  of  as  food,  and  were  exposed  for  sale.  The 
stone  of  which  they  chiefly  consisted  was  the  same  as  that  of  which 
English  soft  slate  pencils  are  made.  This  was  pounded  to  dust  and 
mixed  with  millet  husks,  in  greater  or  less  proportions  according  to 
the  poverty  of  the  people,  and  then  baked.  It  did  not  look  bad, 
but  tasted  like  what  it  was — dust.  Elsewhere  the  people  made 
use,  as  food,  of  a  kind  of  white  earth  brought  from  the  mountains, 
and  which  has  much  the  appearance  of  corn-flour.  Many  of  the 
people,  for  want  of  other  sustenance,  supported  themselves  upon 
this  'mountain  meal.'  In  many  places  it  was  impossible  to  see  any 
trees  with  the  bark  upon  them;  it  had  all  been  stripped  off  to  be 
reduced  and  so  consumed  as  food.  Of  another  locality  it  is  recorded 
that  the  most  common  food  of  the  people  consisted  of  leaves, 
mainly  willow-leaves,  weeds,  and  elm-bark;  that  the  trees  in  sum- 
mer were  so  stripped  of  foliage  as  to  look  bare  as  in  early  spring; 
the  very  weeds  fast  getting  used  up.  Near  T'ai-yiian  fu,  at  the 
extreme  northern  limit  of  the  famine  in  Shan-si,  the  roots  of  rushes 
were  all  eaten  up;  there  were  no  trees  left  to  bark  except  the  poison- 
ous ones,  and  hunger  made  the  people  often  try  these.  In  the  same 
locality  every  family  lived  on  the  seeds  of  thorn-bushes  or  wild 
herbs,  which  they  ground  and  mixed  with  a  little  corn-flour.  In  the 
southern  part  of  that  province  every  tree  whose  bark  was  not  actually 
bare  was  stripped  bare,  and  the  dead  trunks  were  cut  up  as  fire- 
wood; in  one  district  there  some  fine  persimmon  (Dyospyros  kaki) 
orchards  were  left  nearly  uninjured,  from  which  circumstances  it 
was  concluded  that  the  bark  of  that  tree  could  not  be  eaten,  not- 
withstanding the  excellent  quality  of  its  fruit.  Elsewhere  in  that 
province,  the  root  of  the  flag-rush  (Typha?).  stems  of  wheat,  millet, 
maize,  etc.,  and  leaves  of  the  willow,  peach,  plum,  apricot,  mul- 
berry, and  persimmon  were  eaten;  also  wild  herbs,  too  numerous  to 
name,  oily  earth,  and  many  other  articles  not  usually  consumed.  In 
some  instances  it  was  recorded  that  by  means  of  small  sums  of 
money  given  by  the  several  agencies  of  relief,  those  who  were  living 
on  straw  and  reeds  ground  up  with  a  little  mud  or  chaff  or  boiled 
bark,  were  able  by  the  addition  of  more  substantial  food  thus  put 
within  their  reach  to  tide  over  the  time  pretty  well  until  the  autumn 
harvest  was  cut"  (Surgeon-General  C.  A.  Gordon,  An  Epitome  of 
the  Reports  of  the  Medical  Officers  to  the  Chinese  Imperial  Maritime 
Customs  Service,  from  1871  to  1882,  pp.  387,  388,  London,  1884). 

In  the  report  of  the  great  famine  in  northern  China  during  1920 
and  1921,  mention  is  made  of  "flour  made  of  ground  leaves,  fuller's 

124  Geophagy 

earth,  flower  seed,  etc."  used  in  the  daily  diet  of  the  famine-stricken 
(W.  H.  Mallory,  China:  Land  of  Famine,  p.  2,  New  York,  1926). 

Speaking  of  steatite  or  soapstone  found  in  the  environment  of 
Lai-chou,  Shan-tung  Province,  A.  A.  Fauvel  (La  Province  chinoise 
du  Chan-toung,  p.  163,  Bruxelles,  1892)  remarks  that  steatite  in 
a  pulverized  state  is  still  employed  in  Shan-tung  for  the  purpose  of 
rendering  wheat  flour  white  and  heavy;  during  the  famine  of  1876-77 
many  unfortunate  people  ate  such  flour  in  the  hope  of  deceiving 
their  stomachs  and  appeasing  their  hunger;  the  result  was  a  terrible 
constipation  which  entailed  death. 

The  Chinese  and  also  the  Japanese  have  a  class  of  literature 
styled  "treatises  of  eatable  things"  and  devoted  to  a  discussion  of 
vegetal  and  animal  foods  for  human  consumption.  None  of  these 
books  makes  any  reference  to  earth  or  clay  as  an  article  of  diet  or 
as  a  relish;  nor  have  I  ever  heard  or  read  of  an  habitual  earth- 
eater  in  China.  The  Chinese,  although  they  regarded  diatomaceous 
earth  as  a  marvel  of  nature  and  occasionally  ate  it  and  although 
the  destitute  when  driven  by  starvation  occasionally  resorted  to 
earth-eating,  cannot  be  classified  as  geophagists. 

Finally  I  deem  it  my  duty  to  refute  a  few  of  the  many  errors 
and  misrepresentations  from  which  this  subject  has  suffered  on  the 
part  of  previous  writers.  Ehrenberg  (I  p.  144)  asserts  that  clay- 
eating  goes  back  in  China  to  ancient  times.  There  is  no  evidence 
for  this  generalization.  Ancient  Chinese  literature  contains  no 
reference  to  such  a  practice.  In  this  case,  negative  evidence  may 
claim  some  degree  of  validity;  for  the  Chinese  have  always  been 
keen  observers  of  the  soil,  its  formation,  color,  and  other  proper- 
ties, for  purposes  of  agriculture  and  industry.  The  chapter  Yii 
kung  of  the  Shu  king  is  the  best  witness  thereof:  the  nature  of  the 
soil  in  each  of  the  Nine  Provinces  is  briefly  characterized;  for 
instance,  as  "whitish  and  rich,"  as  "red,  clayish,  and  rich,"  as 
"yellow  and  mellow,"  etc.  In  no  passage,  however,  is  any  mention 
made  of  geophagy.  In  the  Chou  li,  the  various  qualities  of  soils  are 
set  forth,  and  five  classes  are  assumed  according  to  aptitude  for 
cultivation,  productions,  and  physical  characteristics  of  the  inhabi- 
tants (E.  Biot,  Tcheou-li,  I,  pp.  194,  276).  There  are,  further, 
numerous  references  to  earths  and  clays  in  technical  literature, 
which,  however,  maintains  complete  silence  as  to  edible  sorts  (cf. 
Beginnings  of  Porcelain  in  China,  Field  Museum  Anthr.  Series, 
XV,  No.  2,  pp.  111-117). 

China  125 

Earth  colored  and  plain  played  a  great  role  in  the  worship  of 
the  god  of  the  Soil  and  in  the  ceremony  of  investiture  with  a  fief 
when  a  clod  of  earth  enveloped  by  the  white  herb  mao  6  if*  was 
bestowed  upon  the  vassal  by  the  liege-lord  (cf.  Chavannes,  Le  T'ai 
Chan,  1910,  pp.  450-459;  Le  royaume  de  Wou  et  de  Yue,  T'oung  Pao, 
1916,  p.  187;  J.  Przyluski,  Bull,  de  VEcole  francaise,  X,  1910,  p.  347). 

A  clod  of  earth  was  the  symbol  of  the  land  and  sovereign  power 
over  it.  In  643  B.C.  when  Ch'ung-er  fi  If  left  Wei,  he  begged  some 
food  from  a  villager,  who  handed  him  a  clod  of  earth.  The  prince 
became  irritated  and  was  about  to  whip  him,  but  Tse-fan  -?  3B 
restrained  him,  saying  that  this  is  a  gift  of  Heaven.  Ch'ung-er  then 
touched  the  ground  with  his  forehead,  received  the  clod,  and  took 
it  with  him  in  his  carriage  (Tso  chwan,  V,  Hi  kung,  23d  year;  cf. 
Legge,  Classics,  V,  p.  186;  Couvreur,  Tch'ouen  Ts'iou  et  Tso 
Tchouan,  I,  p.  342).  These  examples  are  instructive  in  demonstrating 
that  the  sacred  character  of  earth  did  not  lead  to  earth-eating. 

D.  Hooper  and  H.  H.  Mann  (p.  251)  assert  that  "the  Chinese 
are  addicted  to  the  habit  and  eat  a  white  clay  free  from  all  organic 
remains."  No  authority  is  cited  for  this  bold  generalization,1  but 
reference  is  made  to  D.  Hanbury's  "Science  Papers"  (p.  219), 
where  an  aluminous  and  an  argillaceous  earth,  used  for  medicinal 
purposes,  are  described;  but  Hanbury  does  not  state  that  they  are 
ever  taken  as  food.  Hooper  and  Mann,  further,  remark  that  the 
Chinese,  in  many  parts,  mix  gypsum  with  pulse,  and  thus  form  a 
jelly,  which  they  greatly  relish.  What  is  meant  here  is  doubtless 
traceable  to  F.  Porter  Smith  (Contributions  toward  the  Materia 
Medica  of  China,  p.  108),  who  says,  "The  mineral  gypsum  is  largely 
used  as  an  ingredient  in  the  bean-curd  of  ordinary  diet.  It  enters 
into  the  composition  of  some  sorts  of  putty,  and  is  used  to  give 
rice  a  whiter  face,  after  hulling  and  preparing  it  for  sale."  This 
phenomenon,  however,  is  radically  different  from  clay-eating.  The 
question  is  here  merely  of  an  adulteration  of  food-stuffs,  but  the 
Chinese  certainly  have  no  craving  or  appetite  for  gypsum. 

R.  Lasch  (p.  216)  states,  "In  China,  earth-eating  is  widely  dif- 
fused. Pater  Du  Halde  mentions  a  clay  from  the  province  of  Shen-si 
utilized  by  Chinese  women  in  order  to  render  their  complexion  pale. 
Such  clays  are  also  found  in  many  other  places  of  China,  and  as  in 

xThe  sentence  is  evidently  taken  from  the  article  of  Sarat  Chandra  Mitra, 
who  says  (p.  288),  "The  Chinese,  the  Annamites,  etc.,  are  also  addicted  to  this 
habit."  Almost  all  data  in  the  first  chapter  of  Hooper's  and  Mann's  treatise  are 
derived  from  Mitra's  article  without  acknowledgment.  Who  has  ever  observed 
an  earth-addict  among  the  Chinese? 

126  Geophagy 

Persia  and  Java,  are  publicly  sold."  He  quotes  Du  Halde's  work, 
but  gives  no  exact  page-reference.  In  fact,  Du  Halde  says  nothing 
of  the  kind;  at  least  he  does  not  say  that  Chinese  women  eat  clay 
to  bring  this  effect  about;  he  does  say  (Description  of  the  Empire 
of  China,  I,  p.  281),  "It  is  affirmed  that  they  rub  their  faces  every 
morning  with  a  kind  of  paint  to  make  them  look  fair  and  give  them 
a  complexion,  but  that  it  soon  spoils  their  skin  and  makes  it  full  of 
wrinkles."  It  is  an  old  story  that  Chinese  women,  besides  rice 
powder,  use  pulverized  clay  as  a  face  powder,  but  they  never  took 
it  internally.  The  Ling  piao  lu  i  (chap.  A,  p.  4,  ed.  of  Wu  ying 
tien),  written  at  the  end  of  the  ninth  century  by  Liu  Sun  (Sino- 
Iranica,  p.  268),  for  instance,  points  out  a  pit  of  white  clay  north 
of  the  city  of  Fu-chou  1§  'JN  (in  the  province  of  Hu-pei),  the  material 
being  dug  and  traded  by  the  people  of  the  district  and  being  used 
as  a  face  powder  by  women. 


The  brief  communication  of  E.  T.  Hamy  (see  Bibliography)  is 
based  on  information  received  by  him  from  G.  Dumoutier  at  Hanoi, 
who  sent  him  specimens  of  earth  cakes  dried  or  cooked  and  con- 
sumed in  four  provinces  of  Tonking — Nam-Dinh,  Thai-Binh,  Hai- 
Duong,  and  Sontay.  These  cakes  are  said  to  be  regarded  rather  as 
dainties  than  as  articles  of  food,  but  their  consumption  is  not  con- 
nected with  any  superstitious  idea  or  any  belief  in  medicinal  vir- 
tues of  the  substance;  it  is,  according  to  Dumoutier,  a  simple 
depravation  of  taste  maintained  by  local  tradition.  There  are  two 
kinds  of  these  cakes;  one  consisting  of  thin  shavings  cut  off  from  a 
compact  block  and  rather  dried  than  cooked  over  bricks  made  red 
hot  by  fire.  The  natives  call  them  "cat-ears  tiles"  (ngoe  tax  m&o). 
They  sell  on  the  market  on  an  average  at  18  silver  dollars  for  600 
grams.  The  other  specimen  looks  like  a  thin  tile,  and  has  a  beauti- 
ful red  color  in  consequence  of  a  rather  strong  roasting;  its  price  is 
the  same  as  for  the  preceding  one.  At  the  end  of  Hamy's  notice  a 
few  chemical  observations  are  made  by  E.  Demoussy.  The  cakes  in 
question  have  the  physical  properties  of  clay,  unctuous  to  the  touch, 
almost  completely  free  from  grains  of  sand,  sticking  to  the  tongue 
like  kaolin  and  having  the  same  flavor  as  the  latter  or  rather  lack 
of  flavor.  The  clay  includes  a  bit  of  iron  and  lime  without  an 
appreciable  proportion  of  limestone,  a  little  phosphoric  acid,  and  a 
quantity  of  azote  in  that  proportion  generally  found  in  a  good  soil; 
that  is,  about  15  per  cent.  The  only  characteristic  that  distinguishes 
these  specimens  from  ordinary  earth  is  that  they  contain  a  bit  of 
combined  ammonia,  but  in  a  quantity  not  sufficient  to  convey  to 
them  the  slightest  flavor.  In  short,  they  do  not  contain  any 
ingredients  that  would  justify  their  use  as  an  article  of  food. 

As  the  information  given  by  Dumoutier  seemed  little  satis- 
factory to  me,  I  applied  to  the  Ecole  francaise  d'Extreme-Orient  of 
Hanoi,  and  the  then  secretary,  Noel  Peri,  whose  premature  death 
is  much  to  be  deplored,  was  good  enough  to  transmit  to  me  in  1919 
the  following  precise  information  which  had  been  communicated  to 
him  by  Dr.  med.  Paucot  after  the  latter's  own  observations.  "Cases 
of  geophagy  were  observed  only  among  the  Annamese,  not  among 
the  Muong.  There  is  in  Tonking  no  fossil  edible  clay.  The  cases 
known  date  more  than  twenty  years  back,  the  last  being  recorded 
in  1899-1900.  The  question  was  of  eaters  of  an  alluvial  potter's  clay 
observed  in  only  two  villages,  one  located  a  few  kilometers  south- 


128  Geophagy 

east  of  Hanoi  on  the  right  bank  of  the  Red  River,  the  other  on  the 
same  bank  opposite  the  town  Yen-bay.  There  was  but  a  small 
number  of  such  persons,  all  in  a  wretched  condition,  who  seemed  to 
have  acquired  this  habit  in  consequence  of  famines.  How  they  got 
this  idea  could  not  be  determined.  The  habit  of  eating  a  few  mouth- 
fuls  of  earth  at  their  meals  persisted  even  when  it  was  possible  for 
them  to  return  to  a  normal  state  of  nutrition,  and  they  consumed 
this  earth  jointly  with  other  foods.  The  clay  was  cut  up  into  the 
shape  of  thin  tiles  of  small  size  and  simply  dried  in  the  sun.  This 
consumption  of  clay  resulted  in  the  following  symptoms:  increase  in 
volume  of  the  intestines;  extensive  dilatation  of  the  stomach  which 
in  some  cases  dropped  to  a  point  beneath  the  umbilicus;  frequent 
helminthiasis;  ankylostomiasis  in  all  cases;  state  of  emaciation  and 
cachexy  within  the  lapse  of  one  or  two  years.  From  time  to  time 
cases  of  morbid  geophagy  are  observed  among  children  in  the  Anna- 
mese  population;  the  parents  are  generally  annoyed  and  alarmed 
and  consult  a  physician.  These  cases  are  of  interest  only  from  a 
medical  point  of  view,  but  seem  to  be  devoid  of  interest  to  the 

Monsieur  Peri  added  that  these  earth  cakes  were  never  regarded 
as  dainties,  that  they  occurred  until  a  few  years  ago  not  far  from 
Hanoi  in  the  provinces  of  Ha-dong  and  Son-tay,  but  that  this  custom 
appears  to  have  almost  vanished  at  present  owing  to  the  cessation 
of  famines,  as  he  was  assured  by  a  high  Annamese  functionary. 
Mitra  (p.  288),  without  citing  an  authority,  asserts  that  "the 
Annamese  look  upon  the  pasty  and  tasteless  clay  as  a  great 


The  earliest  mention  of  geophagy  with  reference  to  Java  is  made 
by  Labillardiere  (Relation  du  voyage  a  la  recherche  de  la  P^rouse 
fait  en  1791-92  et  1798,  II,  p.  322  or  Account  of  a  Voyage  in  Search 
of  La  PeYouse,  II,  p.  338,  London,  1800).  In  the  villages  between 
Surabaya  and  Samarang  he  noticed  with  surprise  in  the  markets  of 
several  villages  shops  filled  with  little  square,  flat  loaves  of  a  reddish 
potter's  earth  which  the  inhabitants  called  tana  ampo.  This  term 
means  "clay  earth."  In  his  Malay  vocabulary  appended  to  his  work 
(p.  376)  the  author  defines  it  as  "potter's  clay  which  the  Javanese 
eat."  "I  had  at  first  imagined,"  Labillardiere  writes,  "that  they 
might  probably  employ  these  cakes  for  scouring  their  clothes;  but 
presently  I  saw  the  natives  chew  them  in  small  quantities,  and  they 
assured  me  that  they  made  no  other  use  of  them."  A  specimen  of 
this  loam  was  sent  in  1847  by  Mohnike  to  Berlin,  where  it  was 
analyzed  by  Ehrenberg  (Bericht  iiber  die  Verhandlungen  der  Ber- 
liner Akademie,  1848,  pp.  222-225).  Dutch  scholars  have  since  done 
considerable  work  in  studying  the  edible  clays  used  in  Malaysia, 
above  all  J.  J.  Altheer,  a  chemist,  who  has  examined  and  analyzed 
eleven  specimens  from  Java  and  Borneo,  and  J.  Heringa,  who  has 
investigated  a  clay  coming  from  the  west  coast  of  Sumatra. 

The  word  ampo  is  explained  by  J.  Rigg  (Dictionary  of  the  Sunda 
Language,  p.  13,  Batavia,  1862)  as  follows:  "Said  of  animals,  parti- 
cularly buffalo  and  deer,  which  lick  the  places  where  salt  has  been 
deposited,  or  are  in  the  habit  of  licking  the  ground  or  rocks  which 
contain  some  saline  matter.  Batu  ampo  is  ampo  stone  which  is  found 
in  many  parts  of  Java  and  eaten  by  the  natives.  It  is  either  a  rock 
in  a  high  state  of  decomposition,  from  having  undergone  a  sort  of 
caries  in  situ,  or  in  other  cases  may  be  an  aggregation  of  minute 
animal  exuviae." 

In  a  letter  addressed  to  A.  von  Humboldt,  Leschenault  has  given 
the  following  information:  "The  earth  sometimes  eaten  by  the  Java- 
nese is  a  sort  of  reddish  ferruginous  clay.  It  is  spread  out  on  rather 
thin  leaves  and  then  rolled  into  the  shape  of  small  tubes  (almost  in 
the  form  of  the  cinnamon  of  commerce)  which  are  toasted  over  a  fire. 
In  this  state  the  clay  is  called  ampo,  and  is  sold  in  the  markets.  The 
ampo  has  an  insipid  and  empyreumatic  flavor.  It  is  rather  absorbing, 
sticking  to  the  tongue,  and  dries  it  up.    Only  women  will  eat  it, 


130  Geophagy 

especially  during  the  period  of  maternity  or  when  attacked  by  the 
malady  known  in  Europe  as  pica.  Some  men  also  eat  ampo,  for  the 
purpose  of  checking  obesity.  I  believe  that  ampo  only  acts  on 
the  stomach  as  a  substance  which  absorbs  the  gastric  juices" 
(Camilli,  p.  188). 

Hekmeyer,  who  was  an  officer  in  charge  of  the  distribution  of 
drugs  in  the  Dutch  Indies,  stated  that  the  Javanese  first  remove  sand 
and  other  hard  substances  from  the  edible  clay,  and  then  reduce  it 
to  a  paste  by  kneading  it  with  water.  The  dressed  clay  is  then  molded 
into  small  cakes  or  tablets  of  about  the  thickness  of  lead  pencils.  The 
latter  are  baked  in  an  iron  sauce-pan,  and  when  thoroughly  roasted, 
look  like  pieces  of  dried  pork.  The  Javanese  often  partake  of  small 
figures  roughly  made  from  clay  in  the  form  of  animals  or  little  men 
like  those  made  by  pastry-cooks  (Mitra,  p.  288).  E.  Ferrand  gives 
illustrations  of  such  clay  figures  representing  a  girl  astride  a  dog,  a 
woman  holding  a  child,  and  a  dancing  girl.  It  is  reported  also  that  the 
women  of  Java  eat  pieces  of  a  red  pottery  made  at  Samarang  (Heringa, 
p.  186)  and  that  at  Batavia  red  pieces  of  clay  wrapped  in  dried  leaves 
of  pisang  or  other  plants  are  sold  in  the  market  (Altheer,  p.  84). 

The  women  of  Java  are  also  said  to  eat  earth  when  attacked  by 
chlorosis  or  pica.  Others  resort  to  it  as  an  alleged  means  of  reducing 
weight,  because  a  slender  figure  is  regarded  as  beautiful. 

The  preparation  of  ampo  in  Java  forms  an  industry  of  its  own 
which  is  practised  by  professionals,  called  tukang  ampo  (A.  Maass, 
Durch  Zentral-Sumatra,  II,  p.  252). 

A  red-brown  earth  is  eaten  by  the  Batak  women  on  the  west 
coast  of  Sumatra  (Heringa,  p.  186). 

In  the  highlands  of  Padang  in  Sumatra  earth  is  eaten,  especially 
by  pregnant  women.  To  bring  about  abortion,  a  pap  made  of  leaves 
and  eatable  clay  is  heated  and  applied  to  the  abdomen.  In  Nias 
women  put  hot  slices  of  clay  on  the  abdomen  to  the  same  end  (A. 
Maass,  op.  cit.). 

The  Encyclopaedic  van  Nederlandsch-Indie  (2d  ed.,  I,  p.  3)  gives 
the  following  brief  summary  under  Eetbare  aarde: — 

"Eating  earth  is  a  custom  encountered  throughout  the  Archi- 
pelago, both  in  Java  and  Sumatra  among  Malayans  and  Batak, 
among  the  Dayak  of  Borneo,  in  Sumbawa,  and  even  in  New  Guinea. 
The  earth  which  is  eaten,  called  ampo  in  Java,  consists  of  a  fat  clay 
white,  yellow,  reddish,  yellow  brown,  or  gray  green  in  color,  and 
which  besides  the  common  components  of  clay  contains  bituminous 
and  organic  substances.   It  is  carefully  cleaned;  when  it  has  settled 

Malaysia  and  Polynesia  131 

after  a  night,  it  is  rubbed  and  formed  into  disks  or  tubes.  The 
cakes  are  often  covered  with  a  solution  of  salt,  smeared  with  coco- 
nut oil,  and  are  then  roasted.  The  earth  is  usually  eaten  as  a  delicacy, 
sometimes  also  by  pregnant  women,  that  the  unborn  infant  may  be 
fond  of  it.    Its  use  leads  to  constipation  and  illness." 

Other  writers  say  that  Javanese  pregnant  women  eat  clay  in  the 
belief  that  their  foetus  is  fond  of  it. 

Aside  from  this  realistic  geophagy,  there  is  a  ceremonial  form  of 
it.  Eating  of  earth  features  in  the  ordeals  of  the  Javanese:  when  a 
dispute  arises  about  a  boundary,  it  is  believed  that  a  bit  of  the  con- 
troversial earth  swallowed  will  swell  the  wrong-doer  or  burst  him  (P. 
J.  Veth,  Java,  IV,  1907,  p.  146).  This  custom  may  be  traceable  to 
India  (below,  p.  141). 

In  the  island  of  Timor  earth-eating  played  a  role  in  ordeals. 
When  the  oath  was  sworn,  a  bit  of  rice  was  scattered,  and  some 
earth  was  eaten  while  the  Mistress  of  the  Earth  was  invoked  (Riedel, 
Die  Landschaft  Dawah  oder  West-Timor,  Deutsche  Geogr.  Blatter,  X, 
p.  280;  and  A.  H.  Post,  Grundriss  der  ethnologischen  Jurisprudenz, 
I,  1895,  pp.  482-483). 

H.  L.  Roth  (The  Natives  of  Sarawak  and  British  North  Borneo, 
I,  1896,  p.  385)  quotes  from  Sir  Spencer  St.  John  (1862)  that  "in 
their  boat  expeditions  Borneo  people  take  a  supply  of  red  ochre  to 
eat,  in  case  of  becoming  short  of  other  provisions;  and  we  once  found 
in  some  deserted  Seribas'  prahus  many  packets  of  a  white  oleaginous 
clay  used  for  the  same  purpose";  and  from  Bishop  McDougall  (1863) 
that  "there  is  a  certain  slimy  clay  which  the  Sakarran  Dyaks  always 
provide  themselves  with  when  they  make  their  excursions  in  their 
boats,  and  which  they  suck  when  their  stock  of  rice  is  exhausted: 
they  say  it  is  very  nutritious."  Roth  was  informed  that  the  Undup 
occasionally  eat  a  clay  much  resembling  fuller's  earth;  they  did  not 
like  it,  but  thought  it  a  healthy  thing  to  do — they  seemed  to  think 
it  acted  as  a  purifier. 

A.  W.  Nieuwenhuis  (Quer  durch  Borneo,  I,  1904,  p.  83)  informs 
us,  "The  fact  is  noteworthy  that  the  natives  of  central  Borneo  some- 
times crave  a  peculiar  relish;  thus,  I  observed  that  men  and  women, 
particularly  pregnant  women,  sought  in  the  soil  of  the  banks  for  a 
yellowish  or  reddish  loam  consisting  of  weathered  slate." 

0.  Beccari  (Wanderings  in  the  Great  Forests  of  Borneo,  1904, 
pp.  335,  337)  tells  of  Dayak  of  Borneo  hunting  among  the  pebbles 
of  a  torrent  for  a  peculiar  stone  and  nibbling  it  greedily  as  if  it  were  a 
sweetmeat.  It  was  a  kind  of  clayey  schist,  soft  and  brittle  and  greasy 

132  Geophagy 

to  the  touch.  At  Ruma  Sale  he  saw  again  some  Dayak  eating  clay- 
schist  with  evident  relish  and  observes,  "It  certainly  was  not  eaten 
to  appease  hunger,  but  as  a  delicacy  or  perhaps  to  assuage  an  instinc- 
tive craving  of  the  stomach  for  some  alkaline  substance." 

H.W.Walker  (Wanderings  among  South  Sea  Savages,  1909,  p.  220) 
writes,  "I  made  the  discovery  that  some  of  my  Dayak  friends 
were  addicted  to  the  horrible[!]  habit  of  eating  clay,  and  actually 
found  a  regular  little  digging  in  the  side  of  a  hill  where  they  worked 
to  get  these  lumps  of  reddish  gray  clay,  and  soon  caught  some  of 
the  old  men  eating  it.  They  declared  that  they  enjoyed  it."  Clay- 
eating  seems  to  be  quite  general  among  the  Dayak  (see  also  Altheer, 
pp.  85-87). 

Among  the  Kayan  of  Borneo  "it  frequently  happens  that  the 
woman  begins  to  crave  to  eat  a  peculiar  soapy  earth  (batu  krap), 
and  this  is  generally  supplied  to  her"  (C.  Hose  and  W.  McDougall, 
Pagan  Tribes  of  Borneo,  II,  1912,  p.  153). 

I.  H.  N.  Evans  (Among  Primitive  Peoples  in  Borneo,  1922, 
p.  114)  writes,  "At  Tuaran  the  women  have  the  abnormal  habit  of 
eating  earth,  which  is  also  found  in  other  parts  of  Borneo,  in  Java, 
and  the  Federated  Malay  States.  Not  far  from  the  Chinese  shops 
at  this  station  there  is  a  gully,  which  at  the  time  of  heavy  rains  has 
a  small  stream  running  at  the  bottom  of  it.  The  sides  of  the  gully 
are  made  of  a  bluish  gray  clay  with  one  or  two  bands  of  a  hard  dark 
purplish  red  clay  running  through  it.  At  about  six  o'clock  in  the 
evening  it  is  usual  to  see  anything  up  to  about  a  dozen  women 
digging  out  this  red  clay  with  pointed  sticks  or  small  knives,  and 
putting  it  into  baskets.  I  have  been  told  that  the  clay  is  roasted 
before  being  eaten,  and  that  some  women  consume  very  large  quan- 
tities. It  is  said  to  be  a  good  medicine  for  women  who  are  enceinte. 
I  have  several  times  dug  out  a  sample  and  eaten  it  myself;  it  has 
rather  the  consistency  of  chocolate,  but  is  almost  tasteless." 

With  reference  to  the  same  locality  0.  Rutter  (The  Pagans  of 
North  Borneo,  1929,  p.  72)  supplies  the  following  interesting  infor- 
mation: "The  women  of  the  Tuaran  group  have  a  habit  of  eating 
a  dark  red  clay  which  is  found  near  the  Chinese  shops  at  the  Tuaran 
Government  Station,  and  tastes  something  like  unsweetened  choco- 
late. Mr.  E.  A.  Pearson,  who  was  stationed  at  Tuaran  for  some 
time,  tells  me  that  this  earth  is  eaten  by  women  who  wish  to  bear 
children,  since  it  is  supposed  to  have  particular  effect  at  or  about 
the  time  of  the  menstrual  periods.  That  is,  it  is  eaten  as  a  means 
of  securing  pregnancy  and  not  as  a  medicine  during  pregnancy,  as 
Mr.  I.  H.  N.  Evans  states.    It  seems  to  be  rather  a  stealthy  habit 

Malaysia  and  Polynesia  133 

and  the  women  (naturally  enough)  are  shy  about  admitting  that 
they  eat  it;  they  dig  it  out  of  the  ground  quite  openly,  but  it  is  al- 
ways 'for  someone  else.'  Some  women  undoubtedly  become  addicts 
and  cannot  give  up  the  habit,  even  when  they  are  long  past  child- 
bearing.  One  elderly  Dusun  crone  told  Mr.  Pearson  that  she  would 
rather  give  up  her  betel-nut  than  her  daily  whack  of  clay." 

The  analysis  of  an  edible  clay  from  Borneo  is  given  in  Zeitschrift 
fur  Ethnologie,  III,  1871,  p.  273. 

In  the  Moluccas,  a  grayish  white  clay  is  eaten  at  Abubu  in 
Nusalaut  and  in  Saparua,  notably  by  women  during  the  period  of 
pregnancy,  and  as  stated  by  one  informant  "for  the  purpose  of  giv- 
ing birth  to  white  children"  (K.  Martin,  Reisen  in  den  Molukken, 
1894,  p.  55). 

No  case  of  genuine  geophagy  has  become  known  to  me  from  the 
Philippines.  The  following  instances  in  which  earth  is  used  cere- 
monially and  medicinally  by  the  Tinguians  have  been  kindly  com- 
municated to  me  by  Dr.  F.  C.  Cole. 

The  second  day  following  a  marriage  is  known  as  sipsipot  ("the 
beginning  or  the  start").  The  couple  go  with  their  parents  to  the 
fields,  and  after  the  boy  has  cut  grass  along  the  edge  of  the  land,  he 
takes  a  little  of  the  soil  on  his  headaxe.  Both  bride  and  groom  taste 
of  this,  "so  that  the  ground  will  yield  good  harvests  for  them." 

As  a  cure  for  dysentery  and  cholera,  leaves  of  the  sobosob 
(Blumea  balsamifera)  are  placed  in  a  jar  of  water.  Above  this  a  ball 
of  clay  is  suspended,  and  banana  leaves  are  placed  over  the  mouth 
of  the  jar  to  prevent  escape  of  the  steam.  The  leaves  are  boiled  for 
a  time,  and  then  the  ball  of  clay  is  crushed  and  mixed  with  water, 
and  this  is  given  the  patient  to  drink. 

At  the  beginning  of  the  rice  harvest,  the  woman  of  the  family 
goes  alone  to  the  fields  until  she  has  cut  a  hundred  bundles  of  rice. 
During  this  time  she  uses  no  salt  in  her  food,  but  sand  is  used  as  a 

Throughout  the  Islands  it  is  a  common  thing  to  mix  the  earth 
taken  from  nests  of  "white  ants"  with  water  and  give  it  to  patients 
troubled  with  bowel  complaints.  It  is  also  mixed  with  water  and 
applied  to  sores. 

The  nest  of  the  nido  (a  small  cave  bird)  is  mixed  with  water,  and 
is  used  as  a  cure  for  coughs  and  consumption. 

As  regards  Polynesia,  some  forms  of  geophagy  are  reported  from 
New  Zealand,  and  possibly  it  was  anciently  known  in  Tahiti. 

134  Geophagy 

A.  S.  Thomson  (The  Story  of  New  Zealand,  I,  1859,  p.  157) 
refers  to  "a  clay  called  kotou,  with  an  alkaline  taste  and  an  unctuous 
feel,  which  was  eaten  by  the  New  Zealanders  when  pressed  by 

E.  Best  (The  Maori,  I,  p.  432,  Wellington,  1924)  writes  that  "in 
times  of  great  scarcity  a  kind  of  clay  (uku)  was  eaten,  as  during  the 
long  siege  of  Kura-a-renga  at  Te  Mahia;  hence  that  fortified  village 
was  afterwards  known  as  Kai-uku  ('clay  eating')." 

The  same  scholar,  a  well-known  authority  on  Maori  agriculture 
and  life,  has  been  good  enough  to  favor  me  with  the  following  notes: 

"In  1824  the  Puke-karoro  fortified  village  at  Te  Mahia  was 
occupied  by  some  hundreds  of  the  Ngati-Kahu-ngunu  tribe,  when  it 
was  surrounded  and  besieged  by  a  large  force  of  raiders  of  the  Tuhoe, 
Ngati-Maru,  and  other  tribes.  The  siege  continued  for  some  months, 
until  the  besieged  were  reduced  to  cannibalism,  families  exchanging 
children  so  as  to  be  guiltless  of  eating  their  own.  Other  non-com- 
batants were  also  eaten,  also  quantities  of  the  bluish  diatomaceous 
clay  called  uku.  Hence  the  siege  and  fort  are  often  referred  to  as 
Kai-uku  ('clay  eating').  Cf.  Journ.  Polyn.  Soc,  X,  1901,  p.  26;  XIII, 
1904,  p.  2;  XVI,  1907,  p.  20;  Transactions  New  Zealand  Institute, 
XXXV,  p.  81. 

"Some  form  of  mud  or  clay  was  eaten  in  the  Rotorua  District  in 
times  of  scarcity;  a  favored  deposit  of  it  was  at  Rotomahana. 

"The  Rev.  R.  Taylor  mentions  an  unctuous  clay  or  earth  of  a 
yellowish  color  that  was  eaten  under  similar  circumstances." 

The  Maoris  living  around  Taupo  Lake  are  said  to  have  eaten  a 
fine,  gray  yellow  ooze  ejected  by  the  volcanoes  of  the  north  island 
and  called  "native  porridge"  by  the  English  settlers  (Lasch,  p.  217). 

J.  C.  Crawford  (Recollections  of  Travel  in  New  Zealand,  1880, 
pp.  135,  139),  who  visited  Lake  Taupo,  mentions  mud  springs  the 
deposit  from  which  is  chiefly  siliceous,  and  writes  that  the  Maoris 
employ  steam  and  mud  springs  for  stewing  food  and  the  boiling 
springs  for  boiling  it  and  for  scalding  pigs,  but  he  does  not  say  that 
this  substance  is  eaten. 

No  accounts  of  edible  earth  are  available  for  the  other  Polynesian 
islands,  but  from  a  legend  given  by  W.  Ellis  (Polynesian  Researches, 
1, 1831,  p.  68)  it  would  appear  that  a  kind  of  red  earth  was  formerly 
consumed  in  Tahiti.  The  tradition  in  question  is  an  attempt  at  ex- 
plaining the  origin  of  the  breadfruit.  Under  the  reign  of  a  certain 
king,  when  the  people  ate  red  earth  (araea),  there  were  a  husband 
and  wife  who  had  an  only  son  whom  they  tenderly  loved.    The 

Malaysia  and  Polynesia  135 

youth  was  weak  and  delicate;  and  one  day  the  husband  said  to  his 
wife,  "I  compassionate  our  son,  he  is  unable  to  eat  the  red  earth.  I 
will  die  and  become  food  for  our  son."  He  died,  and  from  his  organs 
planted  in  the  ground  sprang  a  breadfruit  tree.  The  mother  directed 
her  son  to  gather  a  number  of  fruits,  to  take  the  first  to  the  family 
god  and  to  the  king;  to  eat  no  more  red  earth,  but  to  roast  and  eat 
the  fruit  of  the  tree  growing  before  them. 

Earth  is  used  by  the  Polynesians  for  industrial  purposes.  Red 
ochre  is  found  in  several  islands,  and  in  Rurutu  and  some  others  its 
color  is  so  strong  as  to  enable  the  people  to  form  a  bright  red  pig- 
ment for  staining  or  painting  their  doors,  window-shutters,  canoes, 
and  mixed  with  lime,  the  walls  of  their  houses  (Ellis,  I,  p.  24).  This 
presents  another  example  for  the  fact  that  industrial  utilization  of 
earth  does  not  necessarily  lead  to  earth-eating. 


R.  Bruce  (Annual  Report  on  British  New  Guinea  from  1899  to 
1900,  p.  102,  Brisbane,  1901)  saw  white  clay  eaten  in  New  Guinea. 
The  cakes  looked  like  white  sausages,  with  a  string  running  through 
their  center  which  joined  a  lot  together.  After  many  inquiries  as  to 
the  use  of  this  clay  he  found  that  it  was  scraped  down  with  a  shell 
and  used  as  a  relish  to  food.  He  tasted  it  and  fancied  that  it  contained 
arsenic.  He  adds  that  "many  natives  of  Torres  Straits  and  New 
Guinea  eat  red-fat  earth  which  contains  iron;  the  women  of  the 
Straits  eat  it  when  pregnant  so  as  to  make  the  child  light-skinned, 
etc."  W.  N.  Beaver  (Unexplored  New  Guinea,  p.  144,  Philadelphia, 
1920),  alluding  to  the  report  of  Bruce  (he  locates  the  edible  white 
clay  at  Tapamone  on  the  Bituru  River),  writes  that  this  clay  is  also 
found  near  Sui,  a  small  village  near  the  mouth  of  the  estuary;  there 
are  one  or  two  villages  located  on  the  northwestern  side  on  Mount 
Lamington  in  the  valley  of  the  Kumusi  River,  the  inhabitants  of 
which  are  clay-eaters  and  invariably  carry  supplies  of  this  "food" 
about  them.  In  fact,  from  all  accounts  they  pine  away  when  deprived 
of  it. 

R.  Neuhauss  (Deutsch  Neu-Guinea,  I,  1911,  p.  275)  informs  us, 
"Everywhere  in  Kaiser- Wilhelmsland  [former  German  New  Guinea] 
the  blacks  eat  earth;  it  is  an  exceedingly  fine-grained  gray,  yellow, 
or  reddish  material.  In  Bukaua  the  gray  white  clay  comes  from  the 
mouth  of  the  Bulesom;  it  is  eaten,  without  special  preparation, 
mainly  by  pregnant  women.  At  the  Sattelberg  it  is  a  reddish,  fer- 
ruginous clay  which  is  taken  in  a  dried  state.  At  Sissanu  this  delicacy 
has  a  gray  yellow  color,  and  is  swallowed  without  further  prepara- 
tion. These  clays  are  devoid  of  any  nutritive  values,  but  are  agree- 
able in  taste,  especially  the  clay  from  the  Sattelberg." 

L.  M.  d'Albertis  (New  Guinea:  What  I  did  and  what  I  saw,  II, 
1881,  p.  89)  writes  that  a  red  clay  is  chewed  and  even  eaten  by  some 
of  the  people  of  Hall  Sound  and  that  he  found  this  red  clay. 

Edible  clays  were  located  by  P.  Wirz  (Die  Marind-anim,  pt.  1, 
1922,  p.  96)  in  Dutch  Southern  New  Guinea.  He  describes  them  as 
gray  or  yellowish  white  and  of  acid  taste.  According  to  appearance, 
flavor,  or  origin  various  sorts  are  distinguished;  they  are  partially 
much  appreciated  and  used  for  barter.  A  white  clay  found  and  dug 
near  Senajo  is  especially  popular.  It  serves  both  as  a  cosmetic  for 
painting  face  and  body  and  as  a  relish.  When  the  people  of  Senajo 
visit  the  coast,  they  will  bring  this  clay  along  and  exchange  it  with 


Melanesia  and  Australia  137 

the  people  of  the  coast.  Another  gray,  recent  marine  clay,  called 
dave,  occurs  in  many  places  on  the  beach;  it  has  likewise  an  acid 
flavor  and  is  said  to  be  good  for  the  stomach;  it  is  particularly  eaten 
by  expectant  mothers.  At  Mevi  Wirz  saw  a  pregnant  woman  fashion 
this  clay  into  loaves  and  dry  these  in  the  sun;  she  stated  that  con- 
sumed they  are  good  for  the  foetus  and  must  be  eaten  daily  till  the 
day  of  delivery.  Wirz  also  refers  to  Bali  where  an  edible  clay  found 
in  the  western  part  of  the  island  is  offered  for  sale  in  the  bazars  and 
is  likewise  enjoyed  by  the  pregnant. 

0.  Finsch  (Samoafahrten,  1888,  pp.  295,  346)  observed  edible 
clay  on  the  north  coast  of  what  then  was  Kaiser- Wilhelmsland 
(now  Australian  mandated  territory) ;  it  was  offered  in  the  shape  of 
flat  cakes  20  cm  wide  and  perforated  in  the  center  for  the  passage  of 
a  cord. 

The  title  of  the  brief  article  of  Meigen  (see  Bibliography)  is 
misleading,  for  the  edible  earth  analyzed  by  him  did  not  come  from 
New  Guinea,  but  from  New  Mecklenburg.  According  to  a  communi- 
cation of  Dr.  Hahl,  then  governor  of  German  New  Guinea,  this 
sample  came  from  Lakurefange  on  the  east  side  of  New  Mecklen- 
burg, and  the  natives  ascribe  to  it  healing  powers  in  stomach  and 
intestinal  troubles.  It  is  a  fat  clay  of  ochre  yellow  color,  a  terra 
rossa,  of  a  camphor-like  odor  and  of  a  not  disagreeable  spicy  flavor. 

E.  Stephan  and  F.  Graebner  (Neu-Mecklenburg,  1907,  p.  10) 
mention  the  eating  of  earth  in  New  Mecklenburg  with  reference 
to  the  Gazelle  Expedition  of  1874-76,  but  offer  no  more  recent 

In  New  Caledonia  geophagy  was  formerly  widely  practised,  and 
partially  it  is  still  in  vogue.  As  early  as  the  eighteenth  century  it  is 
reported  by  Labillardiere  (Account  of  a  Voyage  in  Search  of  La 
Perouse,  II,  p.  213),  who  visited  New  Caledonia  in  1793.  The 
natives  approached  the  ship's  landing-place  and  received  bits  of  bis- 
cuit for  which  they  asked.  He  then  gives  the  following  interesting 
account:  "I  saw,  however,  one  of  them  come  up  who  already  had 
his  stomach  well  filled,  but  who  nevertheless  ate  in  our  presence  a 
lump  of  a  very  soft  steatite  of  a  greenish  color  and  as  big  as  his 
two  fists.  We  afterwards  saw  a  number  of  others  eat  quantities 
of  the  same  sort  of  earth.  It  serves  to  deaden  the  sense  of  hunger 
by  filling  their  stomach,  thus  supporting  the  viscera  attached  to 
the  diaphragm;  and  although  this  substance  does  not  afford  any 
nutritious  juice,  it  is  yet  very  useful  to  these  people,  who  must  be 
often  exposed  to  be  long  in  want  of  food,  for  they  apply  themselves 
little  to  the  culture  of  their  lands,  which  besides  are  very  sterile. 

138  Geophagy 

It  is  to  be  remarked  that  undoubtedly  the  inhabitants  of  New  Cale- 
donia have  made  choice  of  the  steatite  only  because  from  its  great 
friability  it  does  not  remain  long  in  their  stomach  and  intestines. 
I  should  never  have  imagined  that  cannibals  would  have  recourse 
to  such  an  expedient  when  pressed  by  hunger." 

Vauquelin,  the  chemist,  found  in  this  steatite  from  New  Cale- 
donia a  not  inconsiderable  proportion  of  oxid  of  copper.  In  the 
northern  parts  of  the  island  steatite  occurs  abundantly  in  the 
ancient  slate  formation.  According  to  some  authors,  earth  is  merely 
eaten  in  times  of  scarcity  to  appease  hunger;  according  to  others, 
only  women  take  it  in  doses  of  the  size  of  a  hazel-nut,  and  children 
imitate  the  practice.  Among  the  people  of  Tiari,  near  Baladea, 
Gamier  found  a  few  geophagists,  but  only  women  who  he  says  were 
prompted  by  a  morbid  craving  to  eat  but  a  little  earth,  which  is 
insipid  in  taste  and  is  called  by  them  pagute  (Globus,  XIII,  1868, 
p.  102).  Lemire  mentions  balls  of  steatite  which  are  dissolved  in  the 
saliva  and  have  a  somewhat  sweetish  flavor  (F.  Sarrasin,  Ethnologie 
der  Neu-Caledonier,  1929,  p.  64). 

According  to  Glaumont  (Revue  d'ethnographie,  VII,  1888, 
pp.  85-86,  not  cited  by  Sarrasin),  the  inhabitants  of  New  Caledonia 
chew  a  friable  grayish  earth  found  on  the  sides  of  the  mountains. 
This  author  holds  that  the  custom  of  earth-eating  is  on  the  same 
level  as  betel-chewing  or  opium  and  tobacco  smoking.  Sarrasin 
was  informed  by  a  native  of  the  isle  of  Baaba  in  the  north  of  Cale- 
donia that  baskets  full  of  gray  soft  earth  were  collected  there.  He 
refers  to  another  account  that  women  on  the  march  finished  a  whole 
basketful  of  earth,  giving  preference  to  it  to  real  food.  As  steatite 
is  not  found  everywhere  in  the  island,  many  tribes  must  be  content 
with  clayish  and  marly  minerals.  This  is  also  the  case  in  the  Loyalty 
Islands  which  consist  merely  of  chalk.  In  a  cave  near  La  Roche  on 
Mare\  Sarrasin  found  weathered  yellow  marl  of  which  the  natives 
told  him  that  it  is  crushed  and  eaten,  particularly  by  women,  as  a 
dainty;  red  earth,  too,  they  said,  is  eaten  there  after  it  has  been 
burnt.  This  seems  to  refer  to  the  weathered  product  of  chalk  which 
is  colored  red  by  iron. 

V.  de  Rochas  (La  Nouvelle  Catedonie,  1862,  p.  140)  reports 
that  in  the  Loyalty  Islands  people  eat  an  aluminous  earth  full 
of  organic  detritus,  which  is  gathered  in  caves  abounding  in 
humus  and  which  is  kneaded  into  hard  balls;  these  are  dissolved 
in  the  saliva  without  leaving  a  bad  taste.  Sarrasin  thinks  that  this 
substance  may  contain  a  trace  of  nutritive  value,  which  is  not  the 
case  with  steatite,  marl,  and  clay. 

Melanesia  and  Australia  139 

Earth  is  eaten  in  North  Santo  and  Malekula  in  the  New  Heb- 
rides. This  is  a  tough,  dark  brown  clay  apparently  mixed  with 
organic  substances  and  particularly  coveted  by  pregnant  women. 
In  East  Santo  it  is  said  to  be  flattened  out  like  a  biscuit  and  dried 
in  the  smoke.  In  Malekula  the  earth  is  shaped  into  small  balls 
which  are  dried  and  sucked  like  a  sweet-meat;  the  clay  has  indeed 
a  sweetish  flavor  (F.  Speiser,  Ethnographische  Materialien  aus  den 
Neuen  Hebriden,  1923,  p.  133). 

Some  authors,  quite  in  general,  assign  geophagy  to  aboriginal 
Australia.  It  seems  certain  that  it  occurs  among  some  tribes,  but 
not  among  others.  The  following  specific  cases  have  come  to  my 

R.  Brough  Smyth  (The  Aborigines  of  Victoria,  I,  1878, 
p.  XXXIV)  writes,  "There  is  nothing  in  the  records  relating  to 
Victoria  respecting  the  use  of  any  earth  for  the  purpose  of  appeasing 
hunger;  but  Grey  mentions  that  one  kind  of  earth,  pounded  and 
mixed  with  the  root  of  the  mene  (a  species  of  Haemodorum),  is  eaten 
by  the  natives  of  West  Australia."  Seven  or  eight  species  of  this 
genus  occur  in  Australia,  all  of  them  furnishing  roots  which  are  eaten 
by  the  natives;  they  are  acrid  when  raw,  but  mild  when  roasted  (E.  L. 
Sturtevant,  Notes  on  Edible  Plants,  p.  297).  The  case  therefore 
is  analogous  to  what  is  found  among  the  Ainu,  Porno,  and  Hopi. 

The  aborigines  of  Queensland  use  huge  clay  or  mud  pills,  one  or 
two  of  which  at  a  time  are  prescribed  for  diarrhoea  (W.  E.  Roth, 
Ethnological  Studies  among  the  North- West-Central  Queensland 
Aborigines,  1897,  p.  163). 

E.  Eylmann  (Die  Eingeborenen  der  Kolonie  Sudaustralien,  1908, 
p.  448)  mentions  medicinal  employment  of  earth,  ashes,  and  sand; 
women  rub  their  breasts  with  a  pap  made  of  gypsum  for  the  pur- 
pose of  causing  a  secretion  of  milk. 


In  India  clay  is  generally  eaten  by  women  and  children,  rarely 
by  men;  by  women  usually  during  the  period  of  menstruation  and 
pregnancy,  by  others  habitually  at  all  times. 

Examinations  and  analyses  of  Indie  edible  clays  have  been 
conducted  by  Ehrenberg  (I  pp.  116-177)  and  by  Hooper  and 
Mann  (pp.  260-263). 

The  fact  that  clay  is  eaten  in  India  was  known  in  Europe  early 
in  the  nineteenth  century.  Curiously  enough,  the  edible  clay  of 
India  was  then  designated  "clay  of  the  Mogol."  G.  I.  Molina 
(Saggio  sulla  storia  naturale  del  Chili,  1810,  p.  50),  therefore,  wrote 
at  that  time  that  the  Peruvian  women  are  in  the  habit  of  eating 
pottery  sherds  as  the  Mogol  women  eat  the  dishes  of  Patna  (como 
le  Mogolesi  mangiano  il  vasellame  di  Patna).  This  Indie  pottery 
is  described  as  being  gray  in  color  with  a  yellow  tinge,  known  under 
the  name  "earth  of  Patna"  and  found  principally  in  the  environ- 
ment of  Seringapatnam.  From  this  clay  were  manufactured  vases 
so  light  in  weight  and  so  delicate  in  shape  that  "a  breath  from  one's 
mouth  was  sufficient  to  turn  them  upside  down  on  the  table." 
Water  poured  into  these  vessels  assumed  a  pleasant  flavor  and 
odor;  and  the  ladies  of  India  when  they  had  emptied  them  would 
break  them  to  pieces,  swallowing  the  sherds  with  pleasure,  especially 
in  the  period  of  maternity  (Camilli,  p.  188). 

The  clay  consumed  by  the  women  of  Bengal  is  a  fine,  light 
ochreous-colored  specimen  fashioned  into  thin  cups  with  a  perfora- 
tion in  the  center  and  then  baked  in  a  kiln.  In  other  words,  it  is 
ready-made  pottery  which  they  consume  and  which  emits  a  curious 
smoky  odor.  It  is  this  particular  odor  which  makes  it  such  a  favor- 
ite with  delicate  women.  The  cups  are  strung  on  a  cord  and  sold 
by  the  potters  at  so  many  pieces  for  one  pice.  Formerly  these  cups 
were  hawked  about  in  the  streets  of  Calcutta,  but  this  is  no  longer 
customary.  Such  a  street  vendor  of  baked  clay  cups  once  figured  in 
a  Bengali  play  staged  in  a  Calcutta  theatre;  she  recommended  her 
ware  in  a  song,  pointing  out  that  her  cups  are  well  baked,  crisp  to 
eat  and  yet  cheap,  and  that  delicate  ladies  about  to  become  mothers 
should  buy  them  without  delay,  as  eating  them  would  bless  them 
with  sons  (Mitra,  p.  286). 

Saucer-shaped  chips  of  partially  baked  clay  are  sold  in  the 
Calcutta  bazar  for  eating  (G.  Watt,  Commercial  Products  of  India, 


India,  Burma,  and  Siam  141 

1908,  p.  330).  Burnt  earth  is  considered  less  injurious  in  India  than 
fresh  earth. 

The  habit  of  clay-eating,  though  at  present  universal  in  India, 
cannot  be  proved  to  be  of  ancient  date  in  that  country.  The 
earliest  literary  references  to  it,  first  pointed  out  by  Mitra,  occur  in 
Kalidasa's  Ragkuvamga.  In  one  case,  the  question  is  of  a  queen 
who  partakes  of  baked  clay  to  render  her  breath  fragrant  and 
pleasing  to  her  lord.  In  another  case,  the  queen  of  Ayodhya,  before 
giving  birth  to  Raghu,  feels  a  hankering  for  baked  clay  (Sanskrit 
katikd,  Hindi  khariya).  Mallinatha,  in  his  commentary  to  the 
poem,  observes  that  it  is  well  known  that  pregnant  women  eat 
earth.  These  allusions  contain  nothing  that  would  warrant  the 
belief  that  clay-eating  then  (fifth  or  sixth  century  a.d.)  was  a  gen- 
eral and  habitual  practice.  In  Vedic  literature,  no  reference  is  made 
to  it,  nor  in  the  Arthacastra.  In  such  encyclopaedic  works,  as 
Varahamihira's  Brhat-Samhita,  where  we  might  expect  to  find  a 
trace  of  it,  it  is  not  mentioned  either.  Likewise  in  the  literature  on 
alchemy  it  appears  to  be  absent,  as  evidenced  at  least  by  Ray's 
"History  of  Hindu  Chemistry."  Notably  the  Chinese  pilgrims  who 
traveled  in  India  have  not  recorded  the  practice.  Also  so  keen  an 
observer  as  Garcia  da  Orta  maintains  silence  about  it,  and  W. 
Ainslie,  in  his  "Materia  Indica"  (1826),  ignores  it;  no  reference  to 
it  is  made  in  early  Portuguese  and  English  accounts  of  India.  While 
this  negative  evidence  is  not  in  any  way  conclusive,  it  must  be 
admitted  that  the  wide  diffusion  of  geophagy,  though  sporadic 
cases  are  on  record  for  earlier  periods,  is  only  the  result  of  more  or 
less  recent  times. 

In  ancient  prescriptions  occurs  earth  from  the  roots  of  Jambu 
trees.  This  is  a  vegetable  mold  or  black  soil  formed  with  decaying 
vegetal  matter,  such  as  is  found  in  ponds  and  round  the  foot  of 
trees  (Hoernle,  The  Bower  Manuscript,  p.  149).  A  baked  clod  of 
clay  with  other  ingredients  was  kept  in  water  to  relieve  morbid 
thirst  (ibid.,  p.  137). 

Indian  physicians  mention  a  kind  of  chlorosis  (panduroga)  as 
being  caused  by  the  consumption  of  earth  (Jolly,  Indische  Medicin, 
p.  86,  who  unfortunately  does  not  say  which  physicians,  the  older 
or  more  recent  ones). 

The  symptoms  which  appear  in  confirmed  and  habitual  geopha- 
gists  in  India  are  usually  reported  as  the  face  being  unnaturally 
swollen  or  puffed,  the  abdomen  distended,  the  limbs  shrunk  except 
at  the  joints  which  appear  enlarged  and  are  said  to  be  painful. 

142  Geophagy 

Swelling-up  of  the  face  and  abdomen  may  result  from  clay-eating 
for  a  period  of  twelve  months. 

White-ants'  nests  constructed  of  soft,  fine  earth,  generally  of  a 
reddish  black  color,  are  consumed  in  India  in  the  same  manner  as 
in  Africa.  Coolies  of  Assam  are  disposed  toward  white-ant  soil 
taken  from  the  center  of  the  nest,  white  ants  themselves  being 
included  as  a  delicacy  (Hooper  and  Mann,  p.  257).  Among  the 
mountain  tribes  of  Travancore  the  men,  not  the  women,  eat  this 
earth  with  the  ants  inside  the  cells,  sometimes  adding  honey  to  it. 
It  is  taken,  not  in  small  medicinal  doses,  but  in  rather  large  quanti- 
ties.   No  evil  effects  have  been  noticed  to  follow  its  use  (ibid.,  p.  259). 

Steatite  or  soapstone  ground  to  powder  and  mixed  with  flour 
has  served  in  India  as  a  regular  famine  food,  in  the  same  manner  as 
in  China  (above,  p.  124). 

Consumption  of  small  quantities  of  earth  from  holy  places  is 
prevalent  throughout  India.  Such  sacred  earth  is  supposed  to  have 
healing  properties.  The  followers  of  the  Vaishnava  sect  keep  in 
their  houses  the  earth  of  the  sacred  river  Jumna.  At  the  close  of 
their  daily  worship,  a  pinch  of  this  earth  is  placed  on  the  tip  of  the 
tongue  and  swallowed.  There  is  a  hill  a  few  miles  from  Madras; 
and  one  particular  spot  in  it  is  considered  sacred,  and  the  earth 
found  there  is  credited  with  miraculous,  curative  properties.  Those 
who  visit  the  hill  on  a  pilgrimage  take  a  handful  of  this  earth  along, 
making  it  into  pills  used  for  various  internal  disorders  as  occasion 
arises  (Hooper  and  Mann,  p.  259). 

He  who  is  especially  interested  in  the  subject  should  not  fail  to 
read  the  valuable  monograph  of  Hooper  and  Mann  who  have  dealt 
with  geophagy  in  India  almost  exhaustively. 

The  following  interesting  case  is  reported  by  E.  Thurston 
(Omens  and  Superstitions  of  Southern  India,  1912,  p.  38) :  "Some 
years  ago  Mr.  H.  D.  Taylor  was  called  on  to  settle  a  boundary 
dispute  between  two  villages  in  Jeypore  under  the  following 
circumstances.  As  the  result  of  a  panchayat  ('council  meeting'),  the 
men  of  one  village  had  agreed  to  accept  the  boundary  claimed  by 
the  other  party  if  the  head  of  their  village  walked  round  the  bound- 
ary and  eat  earth  at  intervals,  provided  that  no  harm  came  to  him 
within  six  months.  The  man  accordingly  perambulated  the  bound- 
ary eating  earth,  and  a  conditional  order  of  possession  was  given. 
Shortly  afterwards  the  man's  cattle  died,  one  of  his  children  died 
of  smallpox,  and  finally  he  himself  died  within  three  months.  The 
other  party  then  claimed  the  land  on  the  ground  that  the  earth- 

India,  Burma,  and  Siam  143 

goddess  had  proved  him  to  have  perjured  himself.  It  was  urged  in 
defence  that  the  man  had  been  made  to  eat  earth  at  such  frequent 
intervals  that  he  contracted  dysentery,  and  died  from  the  effects  of 

According  to  W.  C.  Smith  (The  Ao  Naga  Tribe  of  Assam,  1925, 
p.  33),  "the  Ao  eat  a  whitish  clay  which  they  say  is  salty.  The 
women  use  it  more  than  the  men.  The  Lakhers  eat  it  and  declare 
it  can  sustain  a  man  without  food  for  thirty-six  hours,  and  women 
soon  to  become  mothers  are  very  fond  of  it." 

L.  and  C.  Scherman  (Im  Stromgebiet  des  Irrawaddy,  p.  55, 
Munchen,  1922),  visiting  a  bazar  at  Yawnghwe  in  the  Southern 
Shan  States,  found  among  the  articles  offered  for  sale  also  edible 
earth  or  more  exactly  gray,  yellow  and  reddish  clays. 

Among  the  Chin  of  Upper  Burma  it  is  customary  to  eat  earth  as 
a  sign  of  swearing  to  tell  the  truth,  and  earth  is  administered  to 
witnesses  giving  evidence  in  a  criminal  case.  This  is  considered  a 
very  binding  oath  and  more  likely  to  extract  the  truth  from  a  Chin 
than  anything  else  (Gazetteer  of  Upper  Burma  and  the  Shan  States, 
I,  pt.  1,  p.  472,  Rangoon,  1900).  In  a  similar  manner  it  was  formerly 
customary  among  the  Angami  Naga  tribe  in  rendering  an  oath  to 
snatch  up  a  handful  of  grass  and  earth,  and  after  placing  it  on  the 
head,  to  shove  it  into  the  mouth,  chewing  it  and  pretending  to  eat 
it  (J.  H.  Hutton,  The  Angami  Nagas,  1921,  p.  146;  cf.  also  J.  P. 
Mills,  The  Lhota  Nagas,  1922,  p.  103). 

In  Siam,  it  is  said,  people  consume  steatite  which  consists  of 
65.6  per  cent  silic  acid,  30.8  per  cent  magnesia,  and  3.6  per  cent 
oxid  of  iron  (Altheer,  p.  90). 

N.  Annandale  (Fasciculi  Malayenses,  Anthr.,  pt.  II,  p.  62)  has 
observed  that  both  Malay  and  Siamese  women  eat  a  kind  of  earth 
dug  out  of  the  banks  of  a  river  and  roasted;  this  is  administered  as 
a  tonic. 


The  Tibetan  Kanjur  contains  a  translation  of  the  Buddhistic 
work  Vinayavastu  in  which  is  embodied  a  curious  story  concerning 
the  earlier  periods  of  the  world.  In  the  course  of  these  supposed 
periods  a  gradual  deterioration  of  man  and  his  foodstuffs  is  believed 
to  have  taken  place.  First  there  was  the  "sap  of  the  earth"  (Tibetan 
sa-i  bcud,  Sanskrit  prthivirasa)  of  excellent  color,  fragrance,  and 
flavor,  in  color  resembling  butter,  in  taste  like  honey.  The  bodies 
of  the  spiritual  beings  who  partook  of  this  substance  waxed  hard 
and  heavy  and  lost  their  fine  luster,  whereupon  darkness  arose  in 
the  world.  Then  originated  sun,  moon,  and  stars,  and  in  conse- 
quence day,  night,  months,  and  years.  Men  subsisted  on  that 
earthly  food  and  reached  a  high  old  age.  Those  who  consumed  but 
little  were  beautiful  in  appearance,  but  those  who  ate  too  much  of 
it  were  ugly.  The  former  grew  haughty  and  despised  the  ugly. 
The  sap  of  the  earth  vanished  in  the  wake  of  this  quarrel,  and  was 
replaced  with  an  "earth  grease  or  oil"  (Tibetan  sa-i  lag,  Sanskrit 
prthivi-parvataka,  Mongol  gadzar-un  tosun,  "earth  oil  or  butter"), 
which  served  as  food.  The  same  happens  as  previously,  and  the 
earth  oil  disappears  to  give  way  to  vegetable  foods.  This  legend 
has  first  been  excerpted  from  the  Kanjur  by  A.  Schiefner  (Uber  die 
Verschlechterungsperioden  der  Menschheit  nach  buddhistischer 
Anschauungsweise.  Bull,  histor.-philol.  de  FAcademie  de  St.-P£ters- 
bourg,  IX,  No.  1,  1851). 

A  kind  of  eatable  clay  is  reported  from  Tibet  by  Ma  Shao-yun 
and  Sheng  Mei-k'i  in  their  Wei  Ts'ang  t'u  shi,  an  account  of  Tibet 
written  in  1792.  Near  the  monastery  rDo-rje-'dra,  not  far  from 
the  celebrated  temples  of  bSam-yas  (southeast  of  Lhasa),  there  is 
a  mountain  with  a  cavern  containing  an  eatable  white  clay,  which 
has  a  taste  like  tsamba  ("roasted  barley-flour,"  the  staple  food  of 
the  Tibetans).  Whenever  clay  is  removed,  it  will  grow  again.  The 
cavern  must  be  entered  with  candles.  Behind  it  there  is  a  large  lake 
(Bitchourin  and  Klaproth,  Description  du  Tubet,  pp.  131-132; 
Rockhill,  J.R.A.S.,  1891,  p.  267).  According  to  Rockhill,  this  clay 
is  styled  sa  rtsam-pa  ("earth  tsamba"). 

Earth  is  also  used  as  a  medicine  in  Tibet;  sa  smug  is  a  dark  red 
earth  employed  medicinally. 

The  Mongol  chronicler  Sanang  Setsen  relates  in  regard  to 
Oljai  Ilduchi,  who  lived  toward  the  end  of  the  sixteenth  century, 


Central  Asia  and  Siberia  145 

that  he  and  his  army,  while  on  a  warlike  expedition,  suffered  from 
want  of  food,  and  were  compelled  to  sustain  their  lives  by  eating 
of  a  stone,  called  barkilda  (I.  J.  Schmidt,  Geschichte  der  Ost-Mon- 
golen,  p.  217).  The  editor  and  translator  of  Sanang  Setsen's  work 
remarks  (p.  413)  that  he  does  not  feel  certain  whether  this  eatable 
stone  or  earth  is  identical  with  the  Siberian  "stone  butter"  described 
by  Pallas.  He  also  alludes  to  the  earth  eaten  by  certain  tribes  of 
South  America.  Nothing  can  directly  be  inferred  from  the  Mongol 
term,  which  is  isolated  in  this  passage  and  is  not  known  otherwise. 
Golstunski,  at  least,  with  reference  to  this  word  in  his  Mongol- 
Russian  Dictionary,  cites  solely  the  text  here  in  question.  The 
word  barkilda,  which  cannot  be  derived  from  any  known  Mongol 
stem,  and  which  does  not  occur  in  Turkish,  means  also  "aerolith," 
and  is  correlated  with  Tibetan  ka-tu  or  ke-tu  (that  is,  Sanskrit  ketu) . 
It  may  be,  therefore,  that  the  stone  mentioned  by  Sanang  Setsen 
was  believed  to  be  of  celestial  origin.  It  certainly  is  not  identical 
with  the  "stone  butter"  of  Siberia,  which  is  a  substance  of  vitriolic 
origin,  first  described,  as  far  as  I  know,  by  P.  J.  von  Strahlenberg 
(Das  nord-  und  ostliche  Theil  von  Europa  und  Asia,  1730,  p.  384). 

P.  S.  Pallas  (Reise  durch  verschiedene  Provinzen  des  russischen 
Reiches,  II,  1771,  pp.  88,  656,  697;  III,  1776,  p.  258)  found  this 
"stone  butter"  in  the  Ural,  near  Tomsk,  on  the  Yenisei  and  the 
Chilok.  He  explains  it  as  plume  alum  or  stone  alum,  a  white  yellow- 
ish substance  of  vitriolic  origin  flowing  out  of  slate.  Some  inhabi- 
tants of  Tomsk  boiled  from  it  an  impure  yellow  vitriol  which  assumed 
a  sand-like  hardened  shape  and  which  was  sold  on  the  market — for 
industrial  purposes  only,  as,  for  example,  for  dyeing  leather  black 
(Strahlenberg).  According  to  Pallas,  the  "proper  natural  stone 
butter"  is  not  so  frequently  gathered  that  Tobolsk  and  other  Siberian 
towns  could  be  supplied  with  it.  At  Krasnoyarsk  only  it  was  offered 
for  sale  in  abundant  quantity,  being  collected  in  the  neighborhood 
of  the  town.  It  is  described  by  him  as  very  white  and  light  in  weight; 
when  burnt  at  a  flame,  it  flows  easily,  and  when  boiled,  it  emits  red 
vitriolic  fumes,  while  a  light,  very  white  and  savory  earth  remains. 
Several  puds  of  this  earth  were  annually  collected  and  sent  to  Kras- 
noyarsk, where  the  pound  sold  at  from  fifteen  to  twenty  kopeks. 
The  common  people  used  this  substance  chiefly  as  a  remedy  in  cases 
of  diarrhoea  and  dysentery  or  for  copious  bleeding  of  lying-in  women 
(cf.  also  Pallas,  Neue  nordische  Beitrage,  V,  1793,  p.  290). 

J.  B.  Miiller  (Les  moeurs  et  usages  des  Ostiackes,  in  Nouveaux 
Memoires  sur  l'£tat  present  de  la  Grande  Russie  ou  Moscovie,  II, 
p.  160,  Amsterdam,  1725)  writes,  "On  the  highest  mountains  and 

146  Geophagy 

rocks  of  Siberia  is  found  an  extraordinary  mineral  called  by  the 
inhabitants  of  the  country  kamine  masla  or  stone  butter.  The  heat 
of  the  sun  causes  it  to  flow  down  the  rocks  to  which  it  is  attached 
as  chalk  to  walls.  It  is  dissolved  in  water  like  salt,  and  is  as  strong 
as  vitriol.  They  attribute  to  it  many  virtues  and  use  it  in  several 
diseases,  especially  in  dysentery.  I  believe  that  we  ought  not  to  get 
accustomed  to  this  remedy,  and  I  know  of  no  one  who  has  ever  made 
use  of  it." 

According  to  J.  G.  Georgi  (Bemerkungen  einer  Reise  im  russi- 
schen  Reiche  im  Jahre  1772,  St.  Petersburg,  1775),  the  stone  or  rock 
butter  served  also  as  a  specific  against  syphilis.  He  reports  also  that 
there  is  in  Kamchatka  near  the  river  Olontora  and  in  several  other 
localities  a  lithomarge  clay  which  both  the  Tungusian  tribes  and  the 
Russians  eat,  either  alone  or  dissolved  in  water  or  milk.  This  sub- 
stance, he  concludes,  produces  in  those  people  merely  a  light  con- 
stipation which  perhaps  is  wholesome  to  them  in  the  spring  when 
they  eat  an  abundance  of  fish,  which  will  cause  diarrhoea.  Georgi 
informs  us  also  that  in  the  countries  located  between  the  Volga, 
Kama,  and  Ural  there  is  a  sort  of  powdered  plaster  termed  by  the 
inhabitants  "rock  flour"  or  "celestial  flour."  This  substance  was 
mixed  with  flour  in  times  of  scarcity,  but  those  who  ate  such  bread 
almost  always  experienced  fatal  effects. 

The  Sungar  picked  up  earth  during  earthquakes  which  do  not 
infrequently  occur  around  the  Altai  mountains,  and  placed  it  on  the 
tongue  of  a  parturient  woman,  believing  that  it  was  a  good  means  of 
expediting  birth  and  expelling  the  after-birth  (P.  S.  Pallas,  Samlungen 
histor.  Nachrichten  iiber  die  mongolischen  Vblkerschaften,  I,  p.  166). 

G.  W.  Steller,  in  his  famous  "Beschreibung  von  dem  Lande 
Kamtschatka"  (1774,  pp.  72,  324),  speaks  of  Sory  officinarum  or  so- 
called  Siberian  kamenna  masla  ("stone  butter")  and  a  soft  bolus 
earth  which  tastes  like  cream  and  which  is  eaten;  the  latter  he  calls 
semlanoi  smetana  ("earth  sour  cream").  Like  the  Tungus  around 
Okhotsk,  he  continues,  the  Italmen  and  Koryak  eat  a  kind  of  fine 
white  clay  which  looks  like  cream  and  which  is  not  devoid  of  an 
agreeable  flavor,  but  is  at  the  same  time  astringent.  According  to 
A.  Erman  (Zeitschrift  filr  Ethnologie,  III,  1871,  p.  150),  who  him- 
self visited  Kamchatka,  the  so-called  flowing  clay  or  earth  cream  (i.e. 
the  gelatinous  detritus  of  a  trachytic  rock)  was  eaten  there  but  ex- 
ceptionally and  only  in  certain  places. 

Mr.  I.  Lopatin,  who  has  devoted  many  years  of  his  life  to  inves- 
tigations of  the  native  tribes  of  eastern  and  northeastern  Siberia, 

Central  Asia  and  Siberia  147 

kindly  informs  me  that  in  his  experience  clay-eating  is  not  practised 
by  any  of  these,  but  that  some  Tungusian  tribes,  such  as  the  Oroche, 
Udekhe,  and  Olcha  make  use  of  clay  as  a  medicine.  He  did  not 
observe  this  practice,  however,  among  the  Golde  with  whom  he  is 
particularly  familiar  and  to  whom  he  has  devoted  a  very  interesting 
monograph.  "Many  times  during  my  expeditions  into  the  countries 
of  these  peoples,"  Mr.  Lopatin  writes  me,  "I  saw  small  pieces  of  clay 
fashioned  into  cakes,  about  one  and  a  half  inch  square  and  a  quarter 
of  an  inch  thick,  and  suspended  from  the  roofs  of  their  huts.  On  two 
occasions  I  watched  the  preparation  of  these  clay  cakes.  An  Udekhe 
woman  made  a  sort  of  dough  of  the  clay,  and  after  having  kneaded 
it  well,  she  turned  out  two  or  three  dozens  of  cakes  somewhat 
resembling  American  crackers.  When  these  clay  crackers  were  suffi- 
ciently dried,  she  perforated  each  piece  in  the  center  and  on  both 
sides  made  four  rows  of  cavities  by  pressing,  about  four  or  five  in  a 
row,  whereupon  she  strung  the  cakes  through  the  perforations  in  the 
center  and  suspended  them  under  the  roof  of  the  hut.  On  another 
occasion  I  saw  a  man  of  the  same  tribe  make  such  cakes  which  were 
of  the  same  size  and  shape  as  previously.  He  said  that  a  particular 
kind  of  clay,  which  is  yellowish  gray  in  color,  must  be  used  for  this 
purpose.  The  clay  cakes  must  be  thoroughly  dried  before  being  con- 
sumed. They  are  kept  under  the  roof  for  at  least  five  or  six  months 
and  in  fact  for  two  or  three  years  before  they  are  ready  for  use. 
Udekhe,  Oroche,  and  Olcha  believe  that  these  cakes  are  very  helpful 
in  stomachic  troubles  and  diarrhoea.  In  the  event  of  such  complaint 
these  cakes  are  taken  internally  for  a  period  of  six  or  seven  days. 
I  wish  to  stress  the  point  that  these  clay  cakes  are  but  seldom  eaten 
by  these  people  and  exclusively  as  a  remedy  in  case  of  illness." 

It  is  certainly  possible  that  this  remedy  is  apt  to  stop  diarrhoea; 
it  is  so  employed  elsewhere,  for  instance,  in  Sumatra  (Heringa, 
p.  186),  and  as  has  been  stated,  by  the  natives  of  Queensland  in  Aus- 
tralia (above,  p.  139).  In  our  own  time  powdered  clay  has  been 
recommended  as  a  remedy  for  cholera  (Berliner  Klinische  Wochen- 
schrift,  1905,  p.  750),  and  clay  pills  have  been  used  for  hemorrhoids 
(Hahneman,  Chronic  Diseases,  II;   Hooper  and  Mann,  p.  269). 

During  his  excavations  conducted  in  Kamchatka  in  1910-11  W. 
Jochelson  (Archaeological  Investigations  in  Kamchatka,  p.  66, 
Carnegie  Institution,  1928)  found  pieces  of  white  clay  in  some  of  the 
excavations  of  dwellings,  which  he  is  inclined  to  think  was  eaten  by 
the  inhabitants.  He  refers  to  Krasheninnikow's  "Description  of 
Kamchatka"  as  mentioning  white  clay  as  a  remedy  for  diarrhoea. 

148  Geophagy 

The  edition  consulted  by  him  is  the  third  in  Russian,  published  at 
St.  Petersburg,  1818.  I  have  a  German  edition  of  this  work  (Lemgo, 
1766)  in  which  this  passage  is  not  contained,  neither  in  the  chapter 
on  Diseases  and  Remedies  nor  in  the  chapter  on  Food  and  Drinks 
of  the  Kamchadal;  in  discussing  the  different  kinds  of  earth  found 
in  Kamchatka  (p.  97)  no  reference  is  made  either  to  clay-eating. 
Of  course  I  do  not  doubt  that  in  the  edition  consulted  by  Jochelson 
the  passage  in  question  is  contained,  but  what  I  venture  to  call  into 
doubt  is  that  the  clay  pieces  found  by  him  in  the  deserted  dwellings 
were  really  intended  for  internal  medicinal  use.  Unfortunately, 
Jochelson  has  neglected  to  state  the  essential  point,  and  this  is,  of 
what  shape  these  clay  pieces  were,  whether  they  were  shaped  into 
a  certain  form  by  human  hand  or  just  odd  pieces  in  their  natural 
state.  If,  for  instance,  they  were  like  the  clay  cakes  described  by 
Lopatin,  this  would  constitute  sufficient  evidence  for  his  conclusion; 
but  if  not  artificially  fashioned  in  some  way  or  other,  the  hypothesis 
is  not  convincing,  or  the  case  remains  at  least  doubtful. 

According  to  W.  Bogoras  (The  Chukchee,  p.  200,  Jesup  North 
Pacific  Expedition,  VII,  1904),  "the  Reindeer  Chukchee  as  well  as 
the  Lamut  and  the  Koryak  in  Kamchatka  occasionally  use  as  food 
a  kind  of  white  clay,  which  is  called  'earth  fat'  (nute-echen).  This, 
of  course,  is  eaten  only  in  moderate  quantities,  mixed  with  broth  or 
with  reindeer-milk."  If  this  be  true,  the  clay  consumed  cannot,  of 
course,  be  designated  as  a  food,  but  is  rather  a  condiment  added 
to  articles  of  food. 

L.  J.  Sternberg  (The  Gilyak,  Ethnograficheskie  Obozrdnie,  1905, 
p.  17)  mentions  a  dish  of  the  Gilyak  consisting  of  the  gluey  broth 
of  fish-skins,  seal's  fat,  berries,  rice,  and  sometimes  of  minced 
dried  fish,  being  mixed  with  dissolved  white  clay;  this  dish  is  favorite 
for  treating  guests. 

H.  von  Siebold  (Ethnol.  Studien  iiber  die  Ainos,  1881,  p.  37, 
Suppl.  Z.  Ethn.)  was  told  that  the  Ainu  occasionally  eat  a  clay 
mixed  with  herbs  and  roots;  he  had  no  occasion  to  see  this  himself. 
Hooper  and  Mann  (p.  251),  without  citing  any  source,  assert, 
"Among  the  Ainu,  the  aborigines  of  Japan,  there  is  a  kind  of  clay 
which  is  eaten  to  a  considerable  extent,  mixed  with  fragments  of  the 
leaves  of  a  plant  and  used  as  an  ingredient  in  the  preparation  of  soup. 
The  clay  occurs  in  a  bed  in  the  valley  of  Tsie-tonai  ('eat-earth  valley') 
on  the  north  of  the  coast  of  Yezo.  It  is  of  light-gray  color  and  fine 
consistency,  and  is  consumed,  not  as  a  matter  of  necessity,  but  be- 
cause it  is  believed  to  contain  some  beneficial  ingredient."  The 
above  name  should  be  written  Chi-e-tonai;  chi  means  "earth,"  e  "to 

Central  Asia  and  Siberia  149 

eat";  but  a  word  tonai  is  not  given  in  the  Ainu  Dictionaries  of 
Batchelor  and  Dobrotvorski.  In  the  works  of  J.  Batchelor,  the  best 
informed  authority  on  the  Yezo  Ainu,  no  reference  is  made  to  con- 
sumption of  earth  in  a  pure  state,  nor  have  I  learned  anything  to 
this  effect  among  the  Saghalin  Ainu.  This,  of  course,  does  not  mean 
that  the  habit  does  not  exist,  or  might  not  formerly  have  existed. 
There  is,  however,  an  Ainu  practice  recorded  by  Batchelor  which 
offers  a  striking  parallel  with  what  is  found  among  the  Porno  and 
Hopi,  as  well  as  among  the  natives  of  western  Australia  (above, 
p.  138). 

The  bulbs  of  Corydalis  ambigua  (Ainu  toma,  Japanese  engosaku) 
are  extensively  eaten  by  the  Ainu,  especially  those  in  the  Ishikari 
valley  of  Saghalin  Island  and  in  the  southern  Kuriles.  The  bulb  has 
a  slightly  bitter  taste  which  is  removed  by  repeated  boilings  in 
water.  In  Etorup,  the  Ainu  boil  the  bulbs  with  a  certain  kind  of 
earth  to  remove  its  bitterness.  They  are  eaten  either  simply  boiled 
or  mixed  with  rice.  In  Saghalin,  it  is  said,  they  are  cooked  generally 
with  the  fat  of  seals  (J.  Batchelor  and  K.  Miyabe,  Ainu  Economic 
Plants,  No.  48,  Transactions  of  the  Asiatic  Society  of  Japan,  XXI, 
1893,  p.  215).  The  Ainu  also  feed  on  acorns  (ibid.,  No.  108)  which 
are  usually  boiled  and  occasionally  roasted,  but  earth  is  not  applied 
to  these  as  by  the  Porno  and  the  peasants  of  Sardinia. 

The  Ainu  have  traditions  of  famines  in  early  times  when  people 
were  dying  from  want  of  food,  and  this  seems  to  be  one  of  their 
typical  forms  of  legend  two  of  which  are  recorded  by  J.  Batchelor 
(Specimens  of  Ainu  Folk-lore,  Transactions  of  the  Asiatic  Society  of 
Japan,  XVI,  1888,  pp.  112-122).  In  these  no  allusion  is  made  to 
earth-eating;  in  fact,  no  famine  food  is  mentioned.  It  is  known, 
however,  that  the  ancient  Ainu  subsisted  a  great  deal  upon  the  stem 
and  leaves  of  the  mugwort  (Artemisia  vulgaris)  which  has  been  the 
means  of  keeping  them  alive  throughout  more  than  one  famine  (J. 
Batchelor  and  K.  Miyabe,  Ainu  Economic  Plants,  No.  78). 

In  mixing  earth  with  certain  foodstuffs  there  is  agreement 
between  the  Ainu,  Gilyak,  and  Chukchi;  and  this  perhaps  may  be 
regarded  as  an  ancient  feature  of  the  culture  of  the  Palaeo-Asiatic 
tribes.  Considering  the  further  fact  that  earth  is  still  eaten  by 
Tungusian  tribes  and  that  a  certain  kind  was  consumed  by  the 
ancient  Kamchadal,  there  is  a  continuous  area  in  northeastern 
Siberia  for  the  practice  of  earth-eating.  It  will  be  seen  that  this 
continues  in  points  of  the  far  north  of  North  America. 


One  of  the  infernal  punishments  of  the  Parsis  was  that  a  man, 
who  used  false  measure  and  weight  and  who  adulterated  his  mer- 
chandize, was  compelled  to  eat  dust  and  earth  meted  out  to  him 
on  a  scale  (M.  Haug,  Uber  das  Ardai  Viraf  nameh,  1870,  p.  25). 

Ibn  al-Baitar  (1197-1248),  an  Arabic  scholar  born  at  Malaga, 
Spain,  and  author  of  a  famous  work  on  pharmacology,  discusses 
eight  kinds  of  medicinal  earth  (L.  Leclerc,  Traite"  des  simples,  II, 
1881,  pp.  421-427;  for  a  general  appreciation  of  this  work  see  Baron 
Carra  de  Vaux,  Les  penseurs  de  Flslam,  II,  1921,  pp.  289-296). 
The  eight  kinds  are  the  terra  sigillata,  Egyptian  earth,  Samian 
earth,  earth  of  Chios,  Cimolean  earth  or  pure  clay  (cimolite),  earth 
of  vines  called  ampelitis  (Pliny  XXXV,  56)  or  pharmakltis  from 
Seleucia  in  Syria,  Armenian  earth,  and  earth  of  Nishapur.  A  great 
deal  of  the  information  given  by  the  Arabic  scholar  is  derived  from 
Dioscorides  and  Galen.  Earths  used  in  medicine  were  but  rarely 
taken  internally,  but  usually  applied  locally;  these  cases,  therefore, 
do  not  come  within  the  subject  of  this  monograph.  Reference  is 
made  here  only  to  Ibn  al-Baitar's  notes  as  far  as  they  relate  to 
earths  administered  internally.  It  appears  that  the  sigillated  earth, 
which  will  be  more  fully  discussed  under  the  heading  "Europe," 
was  regarded  by  Avicenna  as  an  antidote  and  having  the  tendency 
to  eject  poisons  from  the  system  when  taken  before  or  after  the  act 
of  poisoning.  Under  Cimolean  Earth,  Ali  Ibn  Mohammed  is  quoted 
as  saying  that  this  soft  earth,  called  al-hurr,  green  in  color  like  ver- 
digris, is  smoked  together  with  almond  bark  to  serve  as  food  when 
it  will  turn  red  and  assume  a  good  flavor  and  that  it  is  but  rarely 
eaten  without  being  smoked.  The  Cimolean  earth  is  named  for 
Cimolus  (Greek  Kimolos),  one  of  the  Cyclades,  also  called  Argen- 
tiera  (cf.  Dioscorides  V,  175;  Pliny  XXXV,  57;  E.  Seidel,  Mechithar, 
1908,  No.  204). 

The  Armenian  earth  (boje  armenic),  according  to  Ishak  Ibn 
Amran,  was  salutary  in  cases  of  bubonic  plague,  being  administered 
both  externally  and  internally.  The  same  is  affirmed  by  Leo  Afri- 
canus  (in  Ramusio,  4th  ed.,  1588,  fol.  10b;  French  ed.  by  Schefer, 
I,  p.  114)  with  reference  to  Barbary,  save  that  there  the  Armenian 
earth  was  applied  externally  to  the  bubos.  At  present  no  longer 
used,  this  article  (Latin  bolus  armena)  was  renowned  in  ancient 
times  and  extensively  traded  from  Armenia,  where  it  is  abundant. 
It  was  introduced  into  medical  practice  by  Galen  (Seidel,  Mechithar, 


Persians  and  Arabs  151 

No.  132).  It  is  a  soft  earth,  greasy  to  the  touch,  strongly  adhering 
to  the  tongue,  very  fragile,  generally  of  a  yellowish  brown  color, 
sometimes  of  a  fine  flesh  red.  According  to  J.  Chardin  (Travels  in 
Persia,  ed.  Sykes,  p.  164),  it  also  occurred  abundantly  in  Persia, 
where  it  was  especially  used  by  women  in  washing  their  heads. 
According  to  W.  Ainslie  (Materia  Indica,  I,  1826,  p.  43),  it  was 
brought  from  the  Persian  Gulf  to  India,  where  the  Tamul  practi- 
tioners prescribed  it  as  an  astringent  in  fluxes  of  long  standing  and 
supposed  it  to  have  considerable  efficacy  in  correcting  the  state  of 
the  humors  in  cases  of  malignant  fever.  Its  constituent  parts, 
according  to  Ainslie,  are  silica  47  per  cent,  alumina  19  per  cent, 
magnesia  6.20  per  cent,  lime  5.40  per  cent,  iron  5.40  per  cent, 
water  7.50  per  cent. 

The  most  celebrated  of  all  edible  clays  was  that  found  near 
Nishapur  in  Persia.  The  Arabic  historian  al-Ta'alibi  (a.d.  961- 
1038),  who  calls  it  al-naql,  writes  that  it  occurred  exclusively  at 
Nishapur  and  was  exported  from  Zauzan  into  all  quarters  of  the 
globe  to  places  near  and  distant;  a  rati  of  this  clay  was  sometimes 
valued  at  a  dinar  in  Egypt  and  in  the  Maghreb  (E.  Wiedemann, 
Zur  Mineralogie  im  Islam,  Sitzber.  phys.-med.  Soz.  Erlangen,  1912, 
p.  242).  According  to  Edrisi  (Jaubert,  G^ographie,  I,  pp.  452,  454), 
there  was  two  days'  journey  from  Canein,  or  Cain,  on  the  road  lead- 
ing to  Nishapur,  a  kind  of  brilliant  white  clay,  called  tin  el-mehaji 
and  exported  for  purposes  of  consumption  to  distant  regions.  The 
same  fact  is  mentioned  by  Ibn  Haukal  (W.  Ouseley,  Oriental  Geo- 
graphy of  Ebn  Haukal,  1800,  p.  223). 

Ibn  al-Baitar  devotes  much  space  to  the  clay  of  Nishapur, 
chiefly  relying  upon  Ali  Ibn  Mohammed  and  the  celebrated  physi- 
cian Mohammed  Ibn  Zakkariya  al-Razi  (i.e.  born  at  Rei,  the 
ancient  Rhages),  known  as  Razes,  of  the  tenth  century.  This  clay 
is  described  as  being  white,  of  an  agreeable  taste,  taken  either  in 
its  natural  state  or  roasted.  It  is  sweet  to  the  taste,  and  soils  the 
lips  on  account  of  its  great  softness;  on  the  other  hand,  it  is  said 
that  its  flavor  is  somewhat  saline,  but  that  exposed  to  a  fire  it  will 
lose  this  saline  property  and  grow  sweet.  There  are  people  who 
pound  it  and  soften  it  with  rose-water  and  a  little  camphor  and  who 
then  shape  this  compound  into  bread  loaves,  tablets,  or  other  forms. 
Others  scent  the  clay  with  musk,  camphor,  or  some  other  aromatic, 
and  thus  take  it  after  having  indulged  in  wine  to  perfume  their 
breath  and  to  assuage  the  heat  of  the  stomach. 

According  to  Razes,  the  clay  of  Nishapur  fortifies  the  heart  and 
combats  nausea.    It  stops  vomiting  (or  is  used  as  an  anti-emetic) 

152  Geophagy 

and  especially  counteracts  nausea  provoked  by  sugared  and  greasy 
foods.  Razes  holds  that  the  Nishapur  clay  is  not  apt  to  cause 
obstructions  in  the  reins  and  bladder,  as  it  happens  with  other  clays. 
In  his  "Treatise  on  Clays"  Razes  tells  an  interesting  story  of  how 
he  cured  an  individual  seized  by  a  very  grave  choleric  affection 
accentuated  by  violent  fits  of  vomiting  and  cramps.  The  usual 
remedies  were  of  no  avail;  he  administered  to  the  patient  powdered 
Nishapur  clay  in  doses  of  thirty  drams,  three  times,  twice  in  a 
decoction  of  sweet  apples  and  once  in  a  decoction  of  sweet  rush 
(Andropogon  schoenanthus) ,  and  his  nausea  and  indigestion  were 
immediately  relieved.  What  was  still  more  marvelous  was  that  the 
patient  found  himself  stronger  and  merrier  than  before  as  though 
the  medicine  had  nourished  him. 

Razes  further  maintains  that  he  employed  Nishapur  clay  in 
treating  affections  of  the  stomach,  as  well  as  in  cases  of  nausea  and 
indigestion  caused  immediately  after  a  meal.  This  convinced  him 
that  it  was  necessary  to  administer  a  small  dose  of  clay  after  a  meal, 
which  relieved  the  indigestion,  chills  in  the  abdomen,  and  the  tend- 
ency to  vomit.  He  considers  Nishapur  clay  as  a  capital  remedy  for 
the  treatment  of  affections  of  the  stomach  especially  with  patients 
who  apparently  have  no  obstruction  of  the  liver  or  contraction  of 
the  bowels.  In  these  cases  this  remedy  is  rarely  harmful;  on  the 
contrary,  it  seems  that  the  body  gains  weight.  He  administered 
this  clay  also  to  individuals  who  suffered  from  a  considerable  secre- 
tion of  saliva  and  to  all  patients  seized  by  a  ravenous  appetite — all 
these  were  radically  cured. 

The  modest  and  unadorned  report  of  Razes  inspires  confidence 
and  merits  full  credence. 

At  present,  the  habit  of  clay-eating  is  widely  diffused  over  Persia. 
It  has  developed  into  a  passion  among  those  people  who  have  taken 
to  it,  and  these  swallow  considerable  quantities  of  clay.  The  habit 
extends  to  both  sexes,  notably  to  women,  and  is  said  to  be  restricted 
to  common  people,  while  it  is  rare  among  the  better  classes.  The 
reasons  advanced  by  the  people  are  that  "it  tastes  well"  and  "sati- 
ates their  hunger."  The  clay  fiends  are  characterized  by  leanness 
and  sallow,  earth-like  complexion.  Edible  clays  form  a  not  unim- 
portant article  of  trade,  and  are  sold  in  the  bazars  of  most  cities. 
Two  edible  clays  are  especially  reputed — one  traded  from  Kirman 
and  called  ghel-i-giveh,  and  another  from  Kum  under  the  name  ghel- 
mahallat.  The  two  sorts  have  been  analyzed  and  described  by  Goebel 
(see  also  Ehrenberg  I  p.  184;  II  p.  36).  According  to  Goebel,  these 
clays  contain  no  nutritive  substances,  but  some  agents  which  have 

Persians  and  Arabs  153 

an  effect  on  the  nervous  system.  Their  action  is  mechanical,  not 
chemical.  They  leave  the  organism  without  exerting  a  disturbing 
influence  on  the  composition  of  the  blood  in  case  indulgence  has  not 
been  excessive.  Tietze  (Die  Mineralreichtiimer  Persiens,  Jahrbuch 
der  k.k.  geol.  Reichsanstalt  Wien,  1879,  p.  654)  gives  an  analysis 
of  three  kinds  of  earth  from  Persia. 

J.  L.  Schlimmer  (Terminologie  m£dico-pharmaceutique  francais- 
persane,  p.  299,  Teheran,  1874)  writes  that  "geophagy  is  a  general 
habit  among  the  women  of  Persia,  even  when  they  are  not  pregnant. 
The  Persian  physicians  attribute  this  'idiosyncrasy'  to  the  presence 
of  intestinal  worms,  which  for  the  rest  is  far  from  being  proved. 
Among  young  children,  however,  this  particular  habit  is  often  con- 
nected with  the  existence  of  intestinal  worms,  and  in  this  case  vermi- 
fuges administered  in  small  doses  continued  for  a  long  time  and  the 
simultaneous  use  of  wine  will  overcome  this  'depraved  appetite' ;  but 
a  cure  becomes  difficult  in  cases  where  geophagy  is  the  concomitant 
symptom  of  scrophulous  diathesis  when  the  young  patients  assume 
a  cachectic  appearance,  which  is  quite  characteristic  of  their 

Polak  (Persien,  II,  p.  273)  observes  that  the  Persians  have  trained 
their  taste  to  such  an  extent  that  they  discriminate  between  various 
kinds  of  clay  without  hesitation. 

An  earthy,  soap-like  substance  that  the  natives  term  chunniah  is 
obtained  from  lakes  not  far  from  Halla.  It  is  largely  eaten  by  the 
women  of  Sind  (J.  Wood,  Journey  to  the  Source  of  the  River  Oxus, 
1872,  p.  19).  In  Lasch's  article  (p.  220)  this  chunniah  has  been 
transformed  into  tschamiah. 

Hajaj,  a  military  officer,  who  served  under  the  Caliph  Abdul 
Malik  (a.d.  685-705),  was  in  the  habit  of  eating  clay.  Determined 
to  wean  himself  from  this  habit,  he  consulted  Theodocus  (Theodunus 
or  Tiaduq),  a  renowned  physician,  as  to  the  proper  remedy.  "The 
will  of  a  man  of  your  mold,"  Theodocus  responded.  Hajaj  then 
ceased  to  eat  clay  (L.  Leclerc,  Histoire  de  la  m£decine  arabe,  I, 
1876,  p.  83). 

As  in  China,  earth-eating  was  also  connected  with  religious 
beliefs  among  the  Arabs  and  the  Mohammedans  of  India.  Hooper 
and  Mann  (p.  259)  inform  us  that  dust  from  the  tomb  of  the  prophet 
is  an  auspicious  article,  said  to  be  a  cure  for  every  disease.  Accord- 
ing to  E.  W.  Lane  (Manners  and  Customs  of  the  Modern  Egyptians, 
5th  ed.,  I,  p.  323),  who  received  such  specimens  from  a  Mecca  pil- 
grim, they  come  in  oblong,  flat  cakes  of  a  grayish  earth,  each  about 

154  Geophagy 

an  inch  in  length  and  stamped  with  an  Arabic  inscription,  "In  the 
name  of  Allah!  Dust  of  our  land  [mixed]  with  the  saliva  of  some  of 
us."  They  are  alleged  to  be  composed  of  earth  obtained  from  the 
surface  of  the  grave  of  the  Prophet  and  to  be  a  cure  for  every  disease, 
and  are  sold  at  Mecca.  A  cake  of  this  kind  is  sometimes  worn  as  an 
amulet  in  a  leather  case.  It  is  also  formed  into  lumps  of  the  size 
and  shape  of  a  pear,  and  is  suspended  from  the  railing  which  sur- 
rounds the  monument  erected  over  the  grave  of  a  saint. 

Sir  Richard  Burton  (Pilgrimage  to  Al-Madineh  and  Mecca,  I, 
p.  415)  found  in  Arabia  a  yellow  loam  or  bole  being  eaten  by  anaemic 
women.  It  was  used  as  a  soap  in  some  parts  of  the  East,  and  was 
supposed  to  have  some  miraculous  properties  owing  to  the  Prophet 
having  employed  it  with  success  as  a  medical  agent. 

In  1612  William  Lithgow  visited  the  cave  near  Bethlehem  in 
which  the  Virgin  Mary,  at  the  time  of  the  persecution  of  Herodes, 
took  refuge,  and  gives  this  account  (Totall  Discourse  of  the  Rare 
Adventures  and  Painefull  Peregrinations,  p.  247  of  the  edition 
reprinted  at  Glasgow,  1906):  "The  earth  of  the  cave  is  white  as 
snow,  and  hath  this  miraculous  operation,  that  a  little  of  it  drunke 
in  any  liquor,  to  a  woman,  that  after  her  childbirth  is  barren  of 
milke,  shall  forthwith  give  abundance:  which  is  not  onely  availeable 
to  Christians,  but  likewise  to  Turkish,  Moorish,  and  Arabianish 
women,  who  will  come  from  farre  countries,  to  fetch  of  this  earth. 
I  have  seene  the  nature  of  this  dust  practised,  wherefore  I  may 
boldly  affirme  it,  to  have  the  force  of  a  strange  vertue:  Of  the 
which  earth  I  brought  with  me  a  pound  weight,  and  presented  the 
halfe  of  it  to  our  sometimes  Gracious  Queene  Anne  of  blessed  mem- 
ory, with  divers  other  rare  relicts  also,  as  a  girdle,  and  a  paire  of 
garters  of  the  Holy  Grave,  all  richly  wrought  in  silke  and  gold,  hav- 
ing this  inscription  at  every  end  of  them  in  golden  letters,  Sancto 
Sepulchro,  and  the  word  Jerusalem,  etc." 

The  legend  goes  that  the  milk  of  the  Virgin  when  she  took  refuge 
in  that  grotto  spurted  against  the  rock,  and  ever  since  this  earth  has 
been  capable  of  increasing  the  milk  of  both  women  and  animals.  In 
the  first  place,  of  course,  the  question  is  here  of  earth-eating  (cf .  the 
analogous  custom  in  Australia  of  using  earth  externally  as  a  means 
of  promoting  lactation,  above,  p.  139). 

The  Italian  designation  for  diatomaceous  earth,  latte  di  luna 
("lunar  milk"),  may  be  connected  with  this  belief  (other  Italian 
terms  for  it  are  agarico  minerale  and  farina  fossile). 

In  an  interesting  study  entitled  "Mohammedan  Saints  and 
Sanctuaries  in  Palestine"  (Journal  of  the  Palestine  Oriental  Society, 

Persians  and  Arabs  155 

V,  1925,  p.  188),  T.  Canaan  writes,  "Christians  as  well  as  Moham- 
medans use  the  soft  whitish  stones  of  the  milk-grotto  in  Bethlehem 
to  increase  mothers'  milk.  The  stones  are  rubbed  in  water  and  given 
to  the  nursing  women.  It  is  supposed  that  the  holy  family  took 
refuge  in  this  cave  where  a  drop  of  Mary's  milk  fell  to  the  floor." 

The  same  author  reports  that  plaster,  stones,  and  sweepings  of 
many  shrines  are  used  medicinally.  Some  of  the  earth  of  a  certain 
locality  made  with  oil  into  a  paste  cures  sores  of  the  head.  Earth 
gathered  from  another  holy  place  is  dissolved  in  water,  and  given  to 
cattle  will  guard  them  against  disease.  Everything  that  belongs  to  or 
comes  in  contact  with  a  saint  or  his  shrine  is  believed  to  receive  some 
of  his  power  which  may  be  transmitted  to  others.  Thus  the  earth 
of  a  saint's  tomb  (likewise  stones,  water,  grass  and  trees)  is  believed 
to  possess  supernatural  power. 


T.  F.  Ehrmann  (Geschichte  der  merkwiirdigsten  Reisen,  VII, 
1793,  p.  70;  after  J.  Matthew's  Journey  to  Sierra  Leone  1785-87) 
speaks  of  a  white,  soap-like  earth  found  here  and  there  in  Sierra 
Leone  and  so  fat  that  the  Negroes  frequently  eat  it  with  rice,  because 
it  melts  like  butter;  it  is  also  used  for  white- washing  their  houses. 
Ehrmann  adds,  "A  curiosity  which  merits  a  closer  investigation." 
The  same  clay  was  also  reported  by  Golberry  (1785-87)  from  Sene- 
gambia  and  described  by  him  as  a  white,  soap-like  earth  as  soft  as 
butter  and  so  fat  that  the  Negroes  add  it  to  their  rice  and  other 
foods  which  thus  become  very  savory.  This  clay  is  said  not  to 
injure  the  stomach  (Lasch,  p.  216). 

In  the  third  edition  of  his  "Ansichten  der  Natur"  (1849,  I, 
p.  167),  A.  von  Humboldt  writes,  "In  Guinea  the  Negroes  eat  a 
yellowish  earth  which  they  call  caouac.  When  carried  as  slaves  to  the 
West  Indies,  they  try  to  procure  there  a  similar  earth.  They  affirm 
that  earth-eating  is  quite  harmless  in  their  home  country.  The 
caouac  of  the  American  islands,  however,  makes  the  slaves  sick. 
Therefore,  earth-eating  was  forbidden  there,  though  in  1751  earth 
was  secretly  sold  in  the  markets  of  Martinique.  The  Negroes  of 
Guinea  assert  that  in  their  country  they  eat  habitually  a  certain  clay 
whose  flavor  gratifies  them  without  being  harmed  by  it.  Those 
addicted  to  eating  caouac  are  so  fond  of  it  that  no  punishment  can 
prevent  them  from  swallowing  earth."  Humboldt's  information  is 
derived  from  Thibault  de  Chanvallon  (Voyage  a  la  Martinique, 
p.  85). 

Ehrenberg  (II  pp.  15,  53)  has  refuted  the  idea  propounded  by 
Thibault  de  Chanvallon  that  the  Guinea  Negroes  generally  and 
habitually  eat  a  red  earth,  without  endangering  their  health.  Ehren- 
berg's  conclusions  are  based  on  the  observations  of  many  mission- 
aries stationed  at  many  points  of  the  Gold  and  Slave  Coasts  during 
more  than  thirty  years.  On  the  whole,  earth-eating  occurs  there  but 
seldom,  chiefly  on  the  part  of  children  and  thoughtless  persons. 
Ehrenberg  (p.  19)  has  also  analyzed  a  clay  specimen  from  Cuba  and 
arrived  at  the  conclusion  that  the  caouac  substitute  of  the  West 
Indies  alleged  to  be  so  harmful  does  not  appear  to  be  more  harmful 
than  the  earth  of  Guinea. 

In  regard  to  the  Congo  region  we  are  well  informed  by  Catholic 
missionaries  who  have  paid  special  attention  to  this  subject.  It  is 
noteworthy  that  geophagy  prevails  among  some  tribes  of  the  Congo 


Africa  157 

and  is  absent  among  others.  F.  Gaud  (Les  Mandja,  p.  151,  Brussels, 
1911)  writes,  "At  the  present  time  it  is  only  during  famines  that  the 
Mandja  (in  the  French  Congo)  gather  the  earth  of  termites'-nests 
and  consume  it  mixed  with  water  and  powdered  tree-bark.  This 
compound  is  said  to  assuage  the  tortures  of  hunger  in  a  singular  man- 
ner. We  think  that  this  effect  must  be  attributed  not  only  to  the 
physical  action  resulting  from  the  filling  of  the  stomach,  but  also 
to  the  absorption  of  organic  products  existing  in  the  clay.  It  is  in 
fact  known  that  the  walls  of  the  termites'-nests  are  built  by  the 
female  workers  with  tiny  clay  balls  kneaded  by  them  by  means  of 
their  saliva.  It  would  not  be  surprising  that  this  saliva  contains 
formic  acid." 

The  buildings  of  the  great  ants  (Termes  bellicosus)  are  constructed 
from  red  ferruginous  clays  in  the  shape  of  mushrooms  (see  illustra- 
tion in  G.  Schweinfurth,  The  Heart  of  Africa,  I,  p.  349). 

C.  van  Overbergh  (Les  Basonge,  p.  151)  gives  the  following 
information:  "The  Baluba  frequently  eat  pembe  or  white  earth. 
Result:  appalling  leanness  and  swelling  of  the  abdomen.  Pregnant 
women  do  not  eat  white  earth.  In  general  women  eat  earth;  I  have 
never  seen  men  eat  it,  but  I  do  not  guarantee  that  men  will  not  eat 
it.  Another  observer,  Michaud,  states  that  he  saw  men  and  women 
alike  eat  earth.  It  appears  that  a  person  who  has  once  tasted  this 
earth  becomes  infatuated  with  it,  but  dies  in  consequence." 

Another  missionary  among  the  Baluba,  R.  P.  Colle  (Les  Baluba, 
Congo  beige,  I,  p.  131),  states,  "A  certain  number  of  children  dis- 
play a  very  lively  desire  to  eat  the  embers  of  the  hearth  and  clay. 
It  is  that  firm,  fat,  white  and  unctuous  clay  which  serves  for  the 
manufacture  of  pottery.  Perhaps  they  are  driven  to  this  by  the 
need  of  salt.  The  embers  in  fact  contain  potash;  and  the  clay  in 
question,  a  slight  quantity  of  magnesia.  The  result  of  this  habit  is 
the  disease  called  le  carreau." 

While  among  the  Baluba,  as  stated,  pregnant  women  do  not  con- 
sume earth,  it  is  eaten  by  pregnant  women  of  the  Mayombe  (C. 
van  Overbergh,  Les  Mayombe,  p.  121). 

"At  Nouvelle-Anvers  in  the  Belgian  Congo,  it  is  reported  by 
eye-witnesses,  can  be  procured  for  five  Centimes  the  kilo  a  sort  of 
clay  of  which  the  natives  are  very  fond.  This  is  a  yellow  earth  of 
agreeable  odor  which  contains  silicic  acid,  oxid  of  aluminum, 
sodium,  and  a  little  iron"  (C.  van  Oberbergh,  Les  Bangala,  £tat 
indigene  du  Congo,  p.  123). 

R.  Schmitz  (Les  Baholoholo,  Congo  beige,  p.  65)  writes,  "Earth 
is  not  alimentary.    Once  in  a  while  one  encounters  a  case  of  geo- 

158  Geophagy 

mania,  a  sick  person  who  has  a  passion  for  the  wall  of  a  hut  or  an 
ants'-nest  and  who  eats  of  it  till  he  dies." 

On  the  other  hand  we  read,  "Not  the  slightest  indication  of 
geophagy  among  the  Mangbetu,  Mangbellet,  and  Mobadi"  to  which 
another  observer  adds,  "Save  among  a  few  sick"  (C.  van  Overbergh, 
Les  Mangbetu,  p.  181). 

"The  Ababua  does  not  eat  any  species  of  earth"  (J.  Halkin,  Les 
Ababua,  Congo  beige,  p.  151).  "No  case  of  geophagy  exists  among 
the  Warega"  (Delhaise,  Les  Warega,  Congo  beige,  p.  87). 

According  to  Winwood  Reade,  the  famous  author  of  "The 
Martyrdom  of  Man,"  a  white  clay  is  frequently  chewed  or  drunk  in 
solution  on  the  Gold  Coast,  the  young  people  taking  it  as  a  sweet- 
meat, and  the  old  people  as  a  medicine  (Journal  Anthrop.  Institute, 
X,  1881,  p.  467). 

The  following  interesting  account  of  geophagy  with  reference  to 
the  people  of  Batanga  is  given  by  W.  L.  Distant  (Journal  Anthrop. 
Institute,  X,  1881,  p.  467)  :— 

"A  somewhat  curious  instance  of  this  custom  came  before  me  at 
Batanga  in  May,  1880;  and  subsequent  inquiry  has  enabled  me  to 
throw  some  light  upon  it.  From  what  I  could  gather  while  at  Small 
Batanga,  the  custom  seems  to  prevail  all  along  the  coast  as  far  as 
the  island  of  Corisco,  where  I  believe  it  is  also  known,  and  perhaps 
it  extends  farther  south.  I  met  with  it  first  at  Babani,  where  there 
occurs  a  deposit  of  yellowish  red  clay,  containing  about  15  per  cent 
of  iron  and  a  considerable  quantity  of  mica  and  some  quartz  par- 
ticles, but  there  is  evidently  a  large  quantity  of  organic  matter  in  it. 
This  clay  is  made  up  into  balls  of  about  five  inches  in  diameter,  and 
baked  over  a  slow  fire.  When  quite  dry  and  ready  for  use,  a  small 
portion  is  broken  off,  and  placed  in  the  hollow  of  any  smooth  leaf 
and  reduced  to  powder  between  the  finger  and  thumb.  The  leaf  is 
then  gently  shaken  in  order  to  cause  the  harder  and  more  gritty  par- 
ticles to  fall  aside.  These  are  carefully  removed,  and  the  residue, 
consisting  of  a  fine  powder,  is  transferred  to  the  mouth,  masticated, 
and  swallowed.  I  was  informed  that  the  men  use  it  while  on  a  long 
journey,  when  they  do  not  wish  to  stop  in  order  to  cook  food.  As, 
however,  they  travel  far  without  carrying  something  in  the  way  of 
provisions  that  can  be  eaten  readily,  this  scarcely  accounts  ade- 
quately for  the  origin  of  the  custom.  Some  inquiries  made  at 
Camaroons  elicited  the  following  additional  information.  The  cus- 
tom is  known  there,  but  does  not  exist  to  the  same  extent,  or  in  the 
same  manner  as  at  Batanga.     The  material  used  is  a  very  dirty 

Africa  159 

earthy  clay,  with  but  little  iron  and  no  mica,  and  is  derived  from  a 
deposit  on  the  banks  of  the  rivers.  When  baked  in  the  sun,  it 
becomes  very  hard;  and,  indeed,  is  sometimes  used  in  the  construc- 
tion of  houses.  The  men  sometimes,  but  seldom,  eat  it;  but  I  am 
told  the  women,  during  the  time  of  pregnancy,  when  they  are  sup- 
posed to  be  assailed  by  very  unnatural  appetites,  use  it  largely.  Is 
it  the  result  of  inheritance,  or  merely  from  the  force  of  imitation, 
that  the  custom  is  almost  universal  among  the  Camaroons  children? 
I  am  told  that  all  of  them  eat  it,  even  those  belonging  to  the  mission, 
who  are  well  fed,  and  are  strangers  to  the  sensation  of  hunger.  By 
way  of  test,  I  showed  some  of  them  a  small  piece  of  the  Batanga 
earth.  They  looked  at  it  for  a  moment  as  if  to  make  sure  of  it,  then 
eagerly  besought  me  to  give  them  some.  I  gave  them  what  I  had 
in  my  hand,  and  they  greedily  swallowed  it,  afterwards  expressing 
a  desire  that,  as  the  kind  I  had  given  them  was  so  nice,  they  would 
like  some  more.  These  children  had  just  supped,  and  their  evident 
appreciation  of  the  clay  could,  therefore,  hardly  be  connected  with 
hunger,  and  would  seem  to  indicate  an  appetite,  or  at  least  a  liking, 
however  unnatural,  not  much  related  to  the  desire  for  food.  One  of 
those  children,  I  was  informed,  usually  took  a  piece  of  the  clay  to 
bed  with  her,  but  this  child,  though  well-fed,  was  always  hungry." 
The  Negro  slaves  imported  from  West  Africa  to  America  con- 
tinued the  habit  of  earth-eating,  especially  in  the  West  Indies.  P. 
Browne  (Civil  and  Natural  History  of  Jamaica,  1756,  p.  64),  who 
estimated  the  number  of  Negroes  living  in  the  island  at  that  time  at 
120,000  (p.  24),  describes  a  peculiar  sort  of  earth  that  runs  in  veins, 
and  is  chiefly  found  in  marly  beds.  "It  is  of  different  colors,"  he 
writes,  "but  these  generally  answer  to  that  of  the  layer  wherein  it 
is  found;  it  is  apparently  smooth,  and  greasy,  and  somewhat  cohe- 
sive in  its  nature;  but  dissolves  easily  in  the  mouth.  The  Negroes, 
who  make  frequent  use  of  this  substance,  say,  that  it  is  sweetish; 
and  many  get  a  habit  of  eating  it  to  such  excess,  that  it  often  proves 
fatal  to  them.  It  is  the  most  certain  poison  I  have  known,  when 
used  for  any  length  of  time;  and  often  enters  so  abundantly  into 
the  course  of  the  circulation,  as  to  obstruct  all  the  minute  capillaries 
of  the  body;  nay,  has  been  often  found  concreted  in  the  glands,  and 
smaller  vessels  of  the  lungs,  so  far  as  to  become  sensibly  perceptible 
to  the  touch.  It  breaks  the  texture  of  the  blood  entirely;  and  for 
many  months  before  they  die,  a  general  languor  affects  the  machine, 
and  all  the  internal  parts,  lips,  gums,  and  tongue,  are  quite  pale, 
insomuch,  that  the  whole  mass  of  their  juices  seems  to  be  no  better 
than  a  waterish  lymph.    It  is  probable  they  are  first  induced  to  the 

160  Geophagy 

use  of  this  substance  (which  is  generally  well  known  among  them) 
to  allay  some  sharp  cravings  of  the  stomach;  either  from  hunger, 
worms,  or  an  unnatural  habit  of  body." 

It  is  even  suggested  that  Negro  and  Indian  slaves  took  to  earth 
in  despair  as  a  means  of  slow  suicide  and  that  the  Carib  slaves  ate 
earth  whenever  they  were  punished  or  mistreated  (Ehrenberg  II 
p.  16,  after  W.  Irving,  Columbus).  What  is  more  interesting  to  us  is 
the  ceremonial  use  of  earth  on  the  part  of  American  Negroes. 

G.  Hughes  (Natural  History  of  Barbados,  1750,  p.  15),  speaking 
of  the  ordeals  of  the  Negroes  of  Barbados,  writes,  "They  take  a  piece 
of  earth  from  the  grave  of  their  nearest  relations,  or  parents,  if  it  can 
be  had ;  if  not,  from  any  other  grave.  This  being  mingled  with  water, 
they  drink  it,  imprecating  the  divine  vengeance  to  inflict  an  immedi- 
ate punishment  upon  them;  but  in  particular,  that  the  water  and 
mingled  grave-dust  which  they  have  drunk  (if  they  are  guilty  of  the 
crime)  may  cause  them  to  swell,  and  burst  their  bellies.  Most  of 
them  are  so  firmly  persuaded  that  it  will  have  this  effect  upon  the 
guilty,  that  few,  if  any  (provided  they  are  conscious  of  the  imputed 
crime),  will  put  the  proof  of  their  innocency  upon  the  experi- 

In  the  disease  known  as  cachexia  africana  (mal  d'estomac  of  the 
French),  common  among  the  Negroes  of  the  West  Indies  and  Guiana, 
an  essential  symptom  is  a  generally  depraved  appetite  and  an  un- 
governable determination  to  the  eating  of  dirt.  According  to  Cragin 
(p.  358),  "the  only  appreciable  signs  of  mental  activity  during  the 
course  of  this  disease  are  the  crafty  and  cunning  plans  which  the 
patient  most  subtly  matures  and  as  stealthily  executes  to  procure 
his  desired  repast.  This  consists  usually  of  charcoal,  chalk,  dried 
mortar,  mud,  clay,  sand,  shells,  rotten  wood,  shreds  of  cloth  or 
paper,  hair,  or  occasionally  some  other  unnatural  substance.  The 
patient,  when  accused  of  dirt-eating,  which  is  too  often  urged  as  a 
voluntary  crime  rather  than  an  irresistible  disease,  invariably  denies 
the  charge.  As  curative  means,  neither  promises  nor  threats  (even 
when  put  in  execution),  nor  yet  the  confinement  of  the  legs  and  hands 
in  stocks  and  manacles  exert  the  least  influence  and  their  preventive 
effect  is  as  temporary  as  their  employment;  so  great  is  the  depravity 
of  the  appetite,  and  so  strongly  are  the  unfortunate  sufferers  under 
this  complaint  subjected  to  its  irresistible  dominion.  A  metallic 
mask  or  mouthpiece  secured  by  a  lock  is  the  principal  means  of 
security  for  providing  against  their  indulging  in  dirt-eating,  if  left 
for  a  moment  to  themselves,  nor  does  this  effect  a  cure  or  save  the 
life  of  the  patient." 

Africa  161 

Cragin  quotes  from  a  work  "Practical  Rules  for  the  management 
and  medical  treatment  of  Negro  slaves  in  the  sugar  colonies,  by  a 
professional  planter"  (London,  1811)  the  statement,  "We  find  that 
Negroes  laboring  under  any  great  depression  of  mind,  from  the 
rigorous  treatment  of  their  masters,  or  from  any  other  cause,  addict 
themselves  singularly  to  the  eating  of  dirt." 

Cragin  is  inclined  to  think  that  the  disposition  to  eat  chalk,  clay, 
and  earth  arises  from  a  purely  physiological  cause,  an  acidity  of  the 
stomach,  not  from  a  melancholic  or  any  other  affection  of  the  mind. 
He  concludes  that  the  effect  has  been  mistaken  for  the  cause.  As 
one  of  the  facts  to  prove  his  position  he  cites  the  following:  persons 
living  on  the  same  plantation,  perhaps  on  the  identical  section  of 
the  same  plantation,  on  which  they  were  born  and  reared,  with  all 
their  friends  around  them,  and  by  indulgent  masters  and  owners, 
who  are  themselves  the  real  slaves,  while  the  owned  are  only 
nominally  so,  provided  with  ample  food,  raiment,  and  if  necessary, 
medical  aid,  are  also  subject  to  this  malady. 

Dr.  Melville  J.  Herskovits  of  Northwestern  University  informs 
me  that  the  Bush  Negroes  and  the  Negroes  of  the  coastal  region  of 
Surinam  eat  earth  only  on  ceremonial  occasions.  Many  times  he 
saw  women  who  were  possessed  by  the  spirit  rolling  lumps  of  a 
white  sacred  clay  (pemba  doti)  in  their  hands  during  the  time  of 
possession  and  repeatedly  licking  their  hands  or  the  clay. 

According  to  Major  J.  0.  Browne  (The  Vanishing  Tribes  of 
Kenya,  1925,  p.  104),  "instances  occur  from  time  to  time  of  earth- 
eating,  but  they  are  always  associated  with  an  outbreak  of  ankylos- 
tomiasis, of  which,  of  course,  it  is  a  well-known  symptom." 

F.  Fulleborn  (Das  deutsche  Njassa-  und  Ruwuma-Gebiet,  1906, 
p.  115)  has  the  following  notice:  "In  the  south  of  German  East 
Africa  earth  is  eaten,  although  not  so  generally  as  it  is  reported  with 
reference  to  Asiatic  and  American  peoples.  The  fact  that  pregnant 
women  among  the  Wakissi  are  said  to  eat  earth  once  in  a  while 
would  mean  nothing,  since  the  pregnant  often  have  desires  for 
strange  things.  I  was  witness  of  how  at  Wiedhafen  on  the  Nyassa 
relatives  brought  to  a  prisoner  together  with  his  daily  ration  a  piece 
of  loam  (not  a  special  kind,  but  a  quite  common  one  apparently 
detached  from  the  wall  of  a  hut)  of  which  he  ate  with  seeming  en- 
joyment. This,  it  is  true,  was  the  only  case  observed  by  myself,  but 
Elton  reports  in  regard  to  the  Wassangu  that  he  saw  there  young 
children  and  women  emaciated  into  skeletons  who  had  contracted  a 
disease  from  earth-eating,  and  Johnston  reports  similar  cases  from 
British  Central  Africa." 

162  Geophagy 

Ehrenberg  (II  p.  19)  received  also  a  clay  from  Abyssinia  with 
the  remark  that  it  was  eagerly  eaten  by  women. 

In  Morocco  the  earth  from  the  tombs  of  saints  is  used  in  the 
healing  of  disease.  It  is  called  the  hanna  or  henne  of  the  saint. 
It  is  made  into  plasters  to  be  applied  to  the  skin  or  into  amulets.  It 
is  also  moistened  with  the  water  of  the  sanctuary,  and  then  becomes 
a  potion  which  will  cure  the  most  obstinate  evils.  It  is  known  that 
the  objects  concealed  in  a  sanctuary  are  never  stolen,  thanks  to  the 
protection  of  the  saint  who  would  blind,  paralyze  or  instantly  slay 
thievish  intruders.  By  making  a  bag  containing  earth  from  a  saint's 
tomb  and  suspending  it  in  a  tree,  on  the  walls  surrounding  a  garden, 
in  the  flour-chest,  or  in  a  shop  which  remains  unguarded  at  night, 
the  saint  is  obliged  to  protect  these  places;  he  is  transformed  into  a 
veritable  guardian  and  is  compelled  to  punish  the  thief  as  though 
his  own  sanctuary  had  been  violated  (Legey,  Essai  de  folklore  maro- 
cain,  1926,  p.  10). 

During  her  stay  in  Taourirth  Abdallah,  which  is  one  of  the 
Kabyl  towns  in  the  foothills  of  the  Atlas,  in  Algeria,  in  1928,  Miss 
Georgiana  B.  Such,  as  she  kindly  informs  me,  noticed  numerous 
cases  of  clay-eating  and  always  in  individuals  obviously  suffering 
from  some  more  or  less  obvious  polyglandular  disturbance  or  insuf- 
ficiency— many  had  goiter;  all  those  examined  by  her  were  suffer- 
ing from  intestinal  parasites,  many  had  tapeworms,  and  all  were 
undernourished . 

L.  Rauwolf  (Beschreibung  der  Raiss  inn  die  Morgenlander,  1583, 
p.  32)  writes  that  in  Tripoli  an  ash-colored  earth  called  malun  was 
used  for  washing  the  head  and  that  another  earth  called  iusabor  was 
frequently  eaten  by  women  as  among  us  the  pregnant  eat  coal  and 
other  things. 

R.  F.  Burton  (Lake  Regions  of  Central  Africa,  II,  p.  28)  writes 
that  clay  of  ant-hills,  called  "sweet  earth,"  is  commonly  eaten  on 
both  coasts  of  Africa.  According  to  Major  Tremearne  (The  Ban  of 
the  Bori,  p.  80),  the  women  of  Nigeria  eat  white  earth  during  the 
first  three  months  of  pregnancy  to  insure  a  successful  delivery,  but 
earth  is  not  used  as  food  during  a  famine. 


In  his  Naturalis  Historia  (XVIII,  29)  Pliny  discusses  alica,  a 
preparation  or  a  kind  of  porridge  made  from  peeled  spelt  for  which 
Italy  was  famed.  It  was  manufactured  in  several  localities,  for  in- 
stance, in  the  territories  of  Verona  and  Pisae,  but  the  product  of 
Campania  was  most  renowned.  Pliny  describes  in  detail  how  the 
grain  was  dealt  with  in  Campania  for  this  purpose  and  that  three 
kinds  of  alica,  the  finest,  the  seconds,  and  the  coarse  were  distin- 
guished; none  of  these,  however,  had  as  yet  the  white  gloss  for 
which  they  were  reputed.  For  this  purpose,  Pliny  continues — and 
expresses  his  surprise  by  adding  a  mirum  dictu  ("strange  to  relate") 
— a  white  marl  or  chalk  (creta)  is  mixed  with  the  grain,  and  this 
chalk  well  embodied  in  the  mass  lends  it  color  and  tenderness  (postea, 
mirum  dictu,  admiscetur  creta,  quae  transit  in  corpus  coloremque 
et  teneritatem  adfert).  This  chalk,  he  writes,  is  found  between 
Puteoli  and  Neapolis  upon  a  hill  called  Leucogaeum  (a  Greek  name 
meaning  "white  earth").  He  refers  to  a  decree,  then  still  in  existence, 
of  the  emperor  Augustus,  in  which  the  latter  ordered  an  annual  allot- 
ment of  twenty  thousand  sesterces  to  be  paid  from  his  exchequer  to 
the  Neapolitans  for  the  lease  of  this  hill.  The  reason  for  this  con- 
tribution, the  emperor  stated,  was  that  the  people  of  Campania 
alleged  that  their  alica  could  not  be  made  without  this  mineral. 

It  must  be  emphasized  that  what  Pliny  reports  with  reference  to 
the  alica  of  Campania  was  not  a  regular,  but  an  exceptional  practice 
at  which  Pliny  himself  marvels  as  a  very  singular  fact.  In  other 
places  of  Italy  as  well  as  in  Egypt  the  alica  was  prepared  without 
the  addition  of  creta.  Accordingly  we  face  here  a  purely  local  custom 
whose  principal  object  was  to  whiten  the  meal  or  to  intensify  its 
whiteness.  Nothing  like  improving  its  flavor  or  pleasure  in  eating  a 
clayish  substance  is  mentioned  by  Pliny.  This  passage  is  not  con- 
clusive in  attributing  to  the  ancients  the  habit  of  earth-eating,  as 
has  rashly  been  done  by  Ehrenberg  (II  p.  2). 

Pliny  further  mentions  an  adulterated  kind  of  alica  produced  in 
Africa,  over  which  gypsum,  in  the  proportion  of  one  fourth,  is 
sprinkled.  No  reason  therefor  is  given.  Fee,  one  of  Pliny's  com- 
mentators, wonders  how  the  African  mixture  accommodated  itself 
to  the  stomachs  of  those  who  ate  it.  I  believe,  very  well,  and  that 
F£e  himself  with  millions  of  others  has  numerous  times  consumed 
flour  adulterated  with  gypsum  and  perhaps  worse  ingredients. 


164  Geophagy 

I  know  of  no  passage  in  Greek  or  Roman  literature  to  warrant 
the  opinion  that  earth,  clay,  or  chalk  was  occasionally  or  habitually 
consumed,  either  for  pleasure  or  as  a  necessity.  Various  renowned 
clays  like  those  of  Samos,  Chios,  and  Selinos  were  only  employed 
medicinally  or  for  industrial  purposes  (Pliny  XXXV,  16,  53-56). 

Galen  (a.d.  129-199)  has  left  an  interesting  account  of  his 
journeying  back  and  forth  between  Rome  and  Pergamum  in  order 
to  stop  at  Lemnos  and  procure  a  supply  of  the  famous  terra  sigillata, 
a  reddish  clay  stamped  into  pellets  with  the  sacred  seal  of  Diana. 
He  describes  the  solemn  procedure  by  which  the  priestess  from  the 
neighboring  city  gathered  the  red  earth  from  the  hill  where  it  was 
found,  sacrificing  no  animals,  but  wheat  and  barley  to  the  earth. 
He  brought  away  with  him  some  twenty  thousand  of  the  little  disks 
or  seals  which  were  supposed  to  cure  even  lethal  poisons  and  the  bite 
of  mad  dogs.  Berthelot  believed  that  this  earth  was  an  oxid  of 
iron  more  or  less  hydrated  and  impure.  During  the  middle  ages  and 
later  Greek  monks  replaced  the  priestess  of  Diana,  and  the  religious 
ceremony  was  performed  in  the  presence  of  Turkish  officials  (L. 
Thorndike,  I,  p.  130). 

The  learned  Dr.  Covel,  in  his  Diary  (1670-79),  gives  us  an  in- 
teresting account  of  what  he  saw  in  connection  with  the  terra  sigil- 
lata of  Lemnos,  the  sacred  earth  with  supposed  curative  properties: 

"On  the  side  hills,  on  the  contrary  side  of  the  valley,  directly 
over  against  the  middle  point  betwixt  this  hill  and  Panagia  kotzinatz 
is  the  place  where  they  dig  the  terra  sigillata.  At  the  foot  of  a  hard 
rock  of  gray  hard  freestone  enclining  to  marble  is  a  little  clear  spring 
of  most  excellent  water,  which,  falling  down  a  little  lower,  looseth 
its  water  in  a  kind  of  milky  bogge;  on  the  East  side  of  this  spring, 
within  a  foot  or  my  hand's  breadth  of  it,  they  every  year  take  out 
the  earth  on  the  6th  of  August,  about  three  hours  after  the  sun. 
Several  papas,  as  well  as  others,  would  fain  have  persuaded  me  that, 
at  the  time  of  our  Saviour's  transfiguration,  this  place  was  sanctifyed 
to  have  his  virtuous  earth,  and  that  it  is  never  to  be  found  soft  and 
unctuous,  but  always  perfect  rock,  unlesse  only  that  day,  which  they 
keep  holy  in  remembrance  of  the  Metamorphosis,  and  at  that  time 
when  the  priest  hath  said  his  liturgy;  but  I  believe  they  take  it  onely 
that  day,  and  set  the  greater  price  upon  it  by  its  scarcenesse.  Either 
it  was  the  Venetian,  or  perhaps  Turkish  policy  for  the  Grand  Signor 
to  engrosse  it  all  to  himself,  unless  some  little,  which  the  Greeks 
steal;  and  they  prefer  no  poor  Greek  to  take  any  for  his  own  occa- 
sions, for  they  count  it  an  infallible  cure  of  all  agues  taken  in  the 
beginning  of  the  fit  with  water,  and  drank  so  two  or  three  times. 

Europe  165 

Their  women  drink  it  to  hasten  childbirth,  and  to  stop  the  fluxes 
that  are  extraordinary;  and  they  count  it  an  excellent  counter- 
poyson,  and  have  got  a  story  that  no  vessel  made  of  it  will  hold 
poison,  but  immediately  splinter  in  a  thousand  pieces.  I  have  seen 
several  finganes  (Turkish  cups)  made  of  it  in  Stamboul;  we  had  a 
good  store  of  it  presented  to  us  by  Agathone  and  others,  all  incom- 
parably good.  We  had  some  such  as  it  is  naturally  dig'd  out  and 
not  wash'd  . .  .  Thus  they  take  it  out:  before  day  they  begin  and 
digge  a  well  about  1  Y^  yards  wide,  and  a  little  above  a  man's  height 
deep;  and  then  the  earth  is  taken  out  soft  and  loomy,  some  of  it 
like  butter,  which  the  Greeks  say,  and  the  Turks  believe,  is  turned 
out  of  rocky  stone  into  soft  clay  by  virtues  of  their  mass.  When 
they  have  taken  out  some  20  or  30  kintals  for  the  Greeks'  use,  they 
fill  it  up  again,  and  so  leave  it  stop't  without  any  guard  in  the 
world  .  .  . 

"We  came  down  to  a  town  called  Hagiapate,  where  there  is  a 
great  large  fountain,  where  they  wash  and  prepare  the  hagion  choma 
(sacred  earth)  for  the  Turkish  seal.  They  first  dissolve  it  in  water, 
well  working  it  with  their  hands;  then  let  the  water  pass  through 
a  sive,  and  what  remains  they  throw  away.  They  let  the  water 
stand  till  settled,  then  take  of  the  clear,  and,  when  dry  enough,  they 
mould  in  their  hands;  and  most  of  this  we  have  is  shaped  from 
thence.  It  is  all  here  white,  yet  I  had  some  given  me  flesh-coloured. 
I  enquired  diligently  about  it,  and  they  all  told  me  it  came  out  of 
the  same  pit;  but  I  expect  some  of  these  fellows  have  found  some 
other  place  which  they  conceal.  We  had  some  little  quantity  given 
us  of  several  people,  but  very  privately,  for  fear  of  the  Avani&s. 
Agathone,  being  the  Pasha's  favourite,  feared  nothing,  but  gave  us 
at  least  20  okes  before  20  people.  They  tell  a  story  that  the  earth 
is  hollow  from  the  holy  well,  when  dig'd,  to  the  fountain,  where  they 
wash  it;  and  that  a  duck  once  dived  in  the  water  there  and  was 
taken  up  here;  but  it  seemed  an  impossible  thing  to  me,  there  being 
not  water  enough  in  the  first  place  to  cover  a  duck,  and  the  water 
in  the  bogge  so  very  shallow,  and  the  earth  not  sinuous." 

J.  T.  Bent,  editor  of  Covel's  Diary  (Early  Voyages  in  the  Levant, 
1913,  p.  285),  adds  the  following  comments:  "Dr.  Covel's  remarks 
on  the  sacred  earth  of  Lemnos  are  particularly  valuable,  as  this  is 
one  of  the  clearest  instances  of  a  pagan  superstition  being  carried  on 
through  the  influence  of  Christianity  down  to  our  own  times.  Pliny 
mentions  it  (XXIX,  5) ;  also  Dioscorides  (V,  113) ;  and  Galen  made 
an  expedition  to  Lemnos  on  purpose  to  see  it,  and  gives  us  an 
account  of  it  (De  simpl.  med.,  IX,  2).    He  mentions  the  disorders 

166  Geophagy 

for  which  it  was  considered  beneficial;  he  also  gives  us  the  cere- 
monies and  mode  of  operation;  on  certain  occasions  a  priestess  of 
Artemis  came,  and  after  certain  rites  carried  off  a  cartload  to  the 
city;  she  mixed  it  with  water,  kneaded  it,  and  strained  off  both  the 
moisture  and  gritty  particles,  and  when  it  was  like  wax,  she  im- 
pressed it  with  the  seal  of  Artemis.  During  the  middle  ages,  the 
reputed  virtues  of  this  earth  remained  unimpaired  as  a  remedy  for 
the  plague." 

Pierre  Belon  witnessed  the  ceremony  on  August  6,  1533.  When 
Tozer  visited  Lemnos  in  1890,  the  ceremony  was  still  performed 
annually  on  August  6,  and  was  to  be  completed  before  sunrise,  or 
the  earth  would  lose  its  efficacy.  Mohammedan  Khojas  then  shared 
in  the  religious  ceremony,  sacrificing  a  lamb.  In  the  twentieth  cen- 
tury the  entire  ceremony  was  abandoned.  In  western  Europe  the 
terra  sigillata  continued  to  be  held  in  high  esteem,  and  was  included 
in  pharmacopoeias  as  late  as  1833  and  1848.  C.  J.  S.  Thompson 
has  given  a  chemical  analysis  of  a  sixteenth-century  tablet  of  the 
Lemnian  earth,  with  the  result  that  no  evidence  therein  of  its  pos- 
sessing any  medicinal  property  could  be  found  (L.  Thorndike,  II, 
p.  131). 

Hegiage  Ben  Josef  al-Thakefi,  governor  of  Arabia  at  the  time  of 
the  Caliphs,  is  said  to  have  died  of  phthisis  caused  by  overeating  of 
terra  sigillata,  called  by  the  Arabs  tin  makhtum,  lutum  and  lutum 
sigillatum  (D'Herbelot,  Bibliotheque  orientale,  II,  1777,  p.  229). 
This  earth  is  also  mentioned  in  the  pharmacological  literature  of  the 
Arabs,  for  instance,  in  Serapion's  Liber  de  semplici  medicina  (P. 
Guigues,  Les  noms  arabes  dans  Serapion,  Journal  asiatique,  1905, 
p.  85)  and  by  Ibn  al-Baitar  (L.  Leclerc,  Traite"  des  simples,  II, 
p.  421). 

Peter  of  Abano,  in  his  Treatise  on  Poisons  (Tractatus  de  venenis, 
about  1316),  mentions  the  terra  sigillata  which,  he  says,  causes 
vomiting  if  there  is  any  poison  in  the  stomach.  Kings  and  princes 
in  the  west  take  it  with  their  meals  as  a  safeguard,  and  it  is  called 
terra  sigillata  because  stamped  with  the  king's  seal.  Now,  however, 
the  seals  are  no  longer  trustworthy,  and  Peter  cautions  the  Pope 
against  what  may  be  offered  him  as  terra  sigillata  (Thorndike,  II, 
p.  909). 

Earth  dug  from  a  grotto  in  Malta,  where  St.  Paul  spent  a  night, 
was  formerly  used  for  the  cure  of  many  ailments,  being  esteemed  a 
cordial,  a  sudorific,  and  a  certain  remedy  for  the  bites  and  stings  of 
venomous  animals.    In  the  eighteenth  century  this  earth  was  dis- 

Europe  167 

tributed  from  Malta,  made  up  in  small  round  cakes  and  stamped 
with  the  impression  of  a  winged  cherub  and  the  words  terra  sigillata 
(Hill,  History  of  the  Materia  Medica,  p.  206). 

In  a  few  wretched  villages  of  Sardinia  bread  is  still  prepared 
from  the  meal  of  acorns,  which  is  mixed  with  a  ferruginous  argil- 
laceous earth,  in  order  to  counteract  the  tannic  acid  of  the  acorns. 
This  earth  is  called  trokko;  and  the  bread,  pan'  ispeli  (M.  L.  Wagner, 
Das  landliche  Leben  Sardiniens,  p.  60,  Heidelberg,  1921).  This 
practice  corresponds  exactly  with  the  acorn  bread  of  the  Porno  of 
California  (below,  p.  173). 

Altheer  (p.  93)  writes  that  at  Ogliastra  in  Sardinia  a  porridge  of 
acorn  meal  is  mixed  with  a  fat  clay  and  that  this  compound  is  made 
into  cakes  which  are  sprinkled  with  ashes  or  smeared  with  a  little 
grease  and  taken  as  daily  food. 

The  women  of  Spain  and  Portugal  take  pleasure  in  munching  a 
pottery  clay  styled  bucaro  from  which  vases  of  a  yellow  reddish 
color  are  made;  when  dissolved  in  water  or  wine,  it  imparts  to  these 
a  very  agreeable  flavor  and  odor.  The  bucaro  clay  is  found  near 
Estremoz  in  the  province  of  Alemtejo,  Portugal,  and  in  the  province 
of  Estremadura.  The  almagro,  a  very  fine  clay  which  occurs  near 
Cartagena  in  the  province  of  Murcia,  Spain,  is  mixed  with  powdered 
tobacco  in  order  to  render  it  less  volatile  and  to  give  it  that  sweet 
flavor  which  is  the  characteristic  of  the  tobacco  of  Seville  (Camilli, 
p.  187).  Mixed  with  powdered  chili  pepper,  the  same  clay  is  fre- 
quently eaten  in  southern  Spain  (Altheer,  p.  93).  The  word  almagro 
(also  almagra  or  almagre)  is  derived  from  the  Arabic  al-maghra 
("red  ochre*) ;  this  clay  is  still  employed  in  painting  and  known  in 
France  as  rouge  indien  ("Indian  red")  or  rouge  de  Perse  ("Persian 

Deniker  states  that  it  is  asserted  by  women  that  the  eating  of 
earth  gives  a  delicate  complexion  to  the  face  and  that  the  same  cus- 
tom has  also  been  pointed  out  among  women  in  several  countries  of 
Europe,  more  especially  in  Spain,  where  the  sandy  clay  which  is 
used  for  making  the  alcarrazas  is  especially  in  vogue  as  an  edible 
earth.  The  Spanish  word  alcarraza,  derived  from  the  Arabic  al- 
kurraz  ("earthenware  vessel,  pitcher"),  denotes  a  porous,  unglazed 
earthenware  jar  for  cooling  the  water;  in  the  southwestern  United 
States  such  a  jar  is  commonly  called  olla. 

It  is  said  that  the  ladies  of  the  Spanish  aristocracy  in  the  seven- 
teenth century  had  such  a  passion  for  geophagy  that  the  ecclesiastic 

168  Geophagy 

and  secular  authorities  took  steps  to  combat  the  evil  (Morel-Fatio, 
Comer  Barro.  Melanges  de  philologie  romane  d£di£s  a  Carl  Wahlund, 
p.  41,  Macon,  1896). 

In  Macedonia  magnesia  was  sold  in  the  markets  and  baked  in 
the  bread.  Another  sort  of  earth  was  so  much  in  use  there  that 
some  Ulemas  from  Anatolia  once  offered  the  Grand  Vizier  various 
specimens  of  it  as  a  cheap  means  of  nutrition  for  the  Turkish  troops 
(Altheer,  p.  93). 

Saint  Hildegard  of  Bingen  (1098-1179)  describes  a  complicated 
cure  of  leprosy  by  use  of  the  earth  from  an  ant-hill  (L.  Thorndike, 
II,  p.  147). 

A  fossil  flour  was  used  in  Saxony  in  times  of  famine,  and  its  con- 
sumption had  fatal  results.  A  similar  substance  was  found  in  Italy, 
notably  in  the  territory  near  Magognano  in  the  beginning  of  the 
nineteenth  century,  but  it  is  not  on  record  that  this  substance  styled 
in  Italy  "mineral  agaric"  and  "lunar  milk"  (above,  p.  154)  was 
actually  consumed  (Camilli,  p.  188). 

The  miners  in  the  sandstone  mines  of  the  Kyffhauser  ate  fine 
clay  placed  like  butter  on  bread  (known  as  "stone  butter").  The 
same  is  reported  for  miners  near  Kelbre  in  Thuringia  who  used  to 
eat  a  lithomarge  called  "stone  marrow"  (steinmark),  a  fine  clay 
made  liquid  or  spongy  by  a  small  quantity  of  water  (Camilli,  p.  187). 
"Mountain  meal"  (bergmehl)  was  resorted  to  in  Germany  during 
the  Thirty  Years'  War  for  feeding  man  and  cattle  (see  Hopffe 
and  Zaunick  in  Bibliography). 

"In  Finland  a  kind  of  earth  is  occasionally  mixed  with  bread. 
It  consists  of  empty  shells  of  animalculae,  so  small  and  soft  that 
they  do  not  crunch  perceptibly  between  the  teeth;  it  fills  the  stomach, 
but  gives  no  real  nourishment.  In  periods  of  war,  chronicles  and 
documents  preserved  in  archives  often  give  intimation  of  earths  con- 
taining infusoria  having  been  eaten;  speaking  of  them  under  the 
vague  and  general  name  of  'mountain  meal.'  It  was  thus  during 
the  Thirty  Years'  War  in  Pomerania  (at  Kamin  or  Cammin) ;  in  the 
Lausitz  (at  Muskau);  and  in  the  territory  of  Dessau  (at  Klieken); 
and  subsequently  in  1719  and  1733  in  the  fortress  of  Wittenberg" 
(A.  v.  Humboldt,  Aspects  of  Nature,  I,  p.  196).  Ehrenberg  (II  p.  5) 
adds  Miihlhausen  and  Oberburgbernheim  in  Alsace  according  to 
the  Chronicle  of  Basle,  where  earth  was  baked  into  bread,  and  says 
that  the  earth-cakes  of  Klieken  served  as  bread  in  the  fortress 
Wittenberg,  so  that  the  government  then  found  it  profitable  to  sell 
this  treasure  of  the  earth  as  fiscal  property. 

Europe  169 

During  a  famine  in  1832,  the  foodstuffs  used  in  the  parish  Degerna 
on  the  frontier  of  Lapponia  contained  a  meal-like  silicious  earth 
mixed  with  real  flour  and  tree-bark,  according  to  analyses  of  Ber- 
celius,  Retzius,  and  Ehrenberg.  For  a  long  time  it  has  been  custom- 
ary at  Umea,  Sweden,  to  add  such  earth  to  wheat  flour,  and  this 
is  said  to  have  no  injurious  effect  on  health.  Hundreds  of  car-loads 
of  such  earth,  especially  from  Lillhaggsjbn  Lake  in  Umea,  mixed 
with  foodstuffs,  are  said  to  have  served  as  a  nourishment  to  the 
Lapps  about  the  same  time.  Such  earth  is  likewise  utilized  in 
Finland;  near  Laihela,  in  the  region  of  Vasa  in  Oesterbotten,  Fin- 
land, a  powder-like  white  clayish  earth  (according  to  Retzius,  inor- 
ganic) is  used  as  an  addition  to  flour  (Ehrenberg  II  p.  5;  and 
Berichtiiber  dieVerhandlungen  der Berliner  Akademie,  1837,  pp.  41-43; 
1838,  p.  7). 


It  is  commonly  believed  (and  science  also  has  its  conventional 
traditions  sometimes  half  true,  sometimes  untrue  or  unproven)  that 
Alexander  von  Humboldt  was  the  first  who  drew  attention  to  geo- 
phagy  among  American  tribes  or  even  to  the  subject  at  all;  and 
when  geophagy  is  spoken  of,  it  is  usually  Humboldt's  illustrious 
name  which  is  remembered.  Humboldt  made  the  subject  of  geophagy 
fashionable;  his  account  certainly  retains  its  value,  and  is  still  en- 
titled to  the  interest  which  it  at  first  aroused,  but  he  was  neither 
the  first  who  discussed  the  subject  (many  European  writers  of  the 
eighteenth  century  were  quite  familiar  with  it  as  far  as  Africa, 
Siberia  and  Europe  are  concerned),  nor  was  he  the  first  to  point  it 
out  with  reference  to  American  tribes. 

As  early  as  1527  earth-eating  was  mentioned  by  Alvar  Nunez 
Cabeza  de  Vaca.  Speaking  of  a  tribe  called  by  him  Iguaces,  who 
live  on  wild  roots  and  are  much  exposed  to  starvation,  he  relates 
that  "now  and  then  they  kill  deer  and  at  times  get  a  fish,  but  this 
is  so  little  and  their  hunger  so  great  that  they  eat  spiders  and  ant- 
eggs  [the  pupas],  worms,  lizards,  salamanders,  and  serpents,  also 
vipers  the  bite  of  which  is  deadly.  They  swallow  earth  and  wood, 
and  all  they  can  get,  the  dung  of  deer  and  more  things  I  do  not 
mention;  and  I  verily  believe,  from  what  I  saw,  that  if  there  were 
any  stones  in  the  country,  they  would  eat  them  also."  In  another 
passage  the  same  explorer  states  that  the  fruit  of  the  mesquite  tree 
(Prosopis  juliflora)  was  eaten  with  earth,  and  then  became  sweet 
and  very  palatable  (F.  Bandelier,  Journey  of  Cabeza  de  Vaca,  1905, 
pp.  89,  127). 

Sir  Samuel  Argoll,  in  a  letter  on  his  voyage  to  Virginia  in  1613, 
speaks  of  "the  discovery  of  a  strange  kind  of  earth,  the  virtue  of 
which  he  did  not  know;  but  the  Indians  eate  it  for  physicke,  alleag- 
ing  that  it  cureth  the  sicknesse  and  paine  of  the  belly"  (Purchas, 
XIX,  p.  92). 

In  reference  to  clay-eating  among  the  present-day  Virginia  In- 
dians Dr.  Frank  G.  Speck,  professor  of  anthropology  at  the  Uni- 
versity of  Pennsylvania,  has  been  good  enough  to  send  me  the 
following  information:  "I  recall  from  my  notes  that  the  Pamunkey 
and  the  Catawba  would  confess  to  eating  a  little  clay  at  times  when 
they  are  engaged  in  making  pottery.  This  they  do  not  as  a  practice 
nor,  as  I  recall,  for  medicinal  purposes,  but  because  it  tastes  agree- 


North  America  171 

ably  to  them;  but  they  do  not  make  a  regular  practice  of  it.  They 
say  that  it  is  commenced  when  they  are  children,  playing  about  in 
the  clay  which  has  been  gathered  and  cleaned  for  pot-making  by 
their  mothers.  Both  sexes  eat  clay.  It  does  not  seem  to  have  be- 
come a  habit  among  the  Indians  as  among  the  whites.  And  I  believe 
there  is  a  connection  between  it  and  pot-making,  as  a  theory  in  its 
history  in  the  southeast.  The  Pamunkey  mix  powdered  mussel- 
shells  (Unio)  with  their  pot-clay,  and  the  Catawba  sometimes  blood, 
which  may  be  worth  considering  in  the  development  of  the  taste." 
A  similar  example  of  women  potters  enjoying  clay  while  at  work  is 
given  below  (p.  190)  for  Colombia. 

At  a  later  date  Dr.  Speck  communicated  to  me  the  following 
personal  observation:  "The  Catawba  women  who  still  make  clay 
pots  are  given  to  eating  clay  in  small  quantities,  because  they  like 
the  taste  of  it.  This  is  done  when  building  pots.  They  say  it  is 
good  for  the  health  in  small  measure,  acting  as  a  laxative.  I  found 
it  so  too  upon  trial.  Their  children  also  eat  it  and  would  be  apt  to 
eat  too  much  of  it  if  not  controlled  by  their  mothers." 

The  Zuni  eat  the  tuber  of  Solatium  fendleri  (so-called  native 
potato)  raw,  and  after  every  mouthful  a  bite  of  white  clay  is  taken 
to  counteract  the  unpleasant  astringent  effect  of  the  potato  in  the 
mouth  (M.  C.  Stevenson,  Ethnobotany  of  the  Zuni  Indians,  Bureau 
Am.  Ethn.,  30th  Annual  Rep.,  p.  71). 

It  seems,  however,  that  this  procedure  was  not  general  among 
the  Zuni.  At  least  F.  H.  Cushing  (Zuni  Breadstuff,  p.  226,  repr.  in 
Indian  Notes  and  Monographs  of  the  Museum  of  the  American 
Indian,  VIII),  in  speaking  of  the  preparation  of  a  diminutive  wild 
potato,  which  is  poisonous  in  the  raw  state  or  whole,  but  rendered 
harmless  by  the  removal  of  the  skin,  writes  that  such  potatoes  were 
stewed  and  eaten  usually  with  the  addition  of  wild  onions  as  a 
relish.  He  does  not  refer  to  clay  in  this  connection,  nor  to  any  kind 
of  clay  used  by  the  Zuni  in  reference  to  any  other  food. 

The  Oraibi  of  Arizona  use  a  kind  of  clay  which  is  mixed  with 
potatoes  and  eaten,  hence  known  as  potato-clay  (specimen  in  Field 

J.  G.  Bourke  (The  Snake-dance  of  the  Moquis  of  Arizona,  1884, 
pp.  70,  252)  refers  to  the  Moqui's  eating  of  clay  with  wild  potatoes 
as  a  condiment.  He  adds  that  the  Navaho  to  a  very  marked  extent 
and  the  Apache,  Moqui  and  Zuni  to  a  smaller  degree  may  be  classed 
among  clay-eaters. 

172  Geophagy 

Mr.  C.  Daryll  Forde  has  kindly  sent  me  the  following  informa- 
tion on  the  edible  clay  used  by  the  Hopi:  "The  edible  clay  known 
and  used  by  the  Hopi  is  a  white  compact  material  as  hard  as  chalk, 
but  more  'greasy'  to  the  touch  and  taste.  Two  sources  were  known 
to  my  informants:  (1)  the  larger  supply  is  obtained  from  Navaho 
who  bring  it  in  from  the  Chinlee  District,  (2)  a  small  local  supply 
also  exists  in  a  low  hill  of  sand  and  shale  debris  on  the  west  side  of 
Second  Mesa  near  the  Mishongnovi  spring,  Toreva  (tojiva).  My 
informants  thought  that  the  Navaho  themselves  did  not  use  it  (I 
was  unable  to  corroborate  this  with  Navaho  informants).  The  Hopi 
name  is  tomontcoka.  It  is  always  used  in  association  with  wild 
vegetables  or  berries.   The  following  are  two  standard  recipes: 

(1)  Kevepsi  (berries  of  a  low  bush,  keptcoki,  not  yet  identified)  are 

boiled,  the  clay  is  mixed  in  with  them  as  they  cook,  and  the 
whole  mashed  into  a  paste. 

(2)  Tumna,  the  tubers  of  a  wild  bush  collected  in  April  and  May, 

are  boiled  and  eaten  with  powdered  clay  (au  gratin,  so  to 
speak),  or  the  tubers  and  the  clay  are  mashed  together  after 
cooking,  or,  again,  one  nibbles  at  a  lump  of  the  clay  while 
eating  the  main  dish." 

Mr.  E.  Simpson  and  others  of  the  Department  of  Geology, 
University  of  California,  have  made  a  physical  examination  of  this 
clay,  with  the  following  report  communicated  to  me  by  Mr.  Forde: — 

"The  Hopi  edible  clay  is  a  cream-colored,  very  fine  material  with 
a  speckled  appearance  due  to  the  presence  of  small,  whiter-colored 
mud  ovules.  The  latter  appear  to  be  clay  pellets  which  may  have 
been  formed  by  coagulation  in  a  saline  solution,  such  as  would 
obtain  in  a  saline  lake. 

"On  treating  the  specimen  with  water  it  immediately  began  to 
'dissolve'  and  rapidly  colored  all  the  water  in  the  beaker.  In  a  few 
hours  it  had  swelled  to  more  than  twice  its  original  volume,  and  had 
the  consistency  of  soft  jelly.  The  colloidal  clay  was  decanted  off 
and  the  residue,  of  which  there  was  extremely  little,  examined  under 
the  microscope.  A  few  very  angular  grains  of  quartz,  none  over  a 
tenth  of  a  millimeter  in  diameter,  were  observed  together  with  a 
few  weathered  grains  of  medium  plagioclase  felspar.  Most  of  the 
residue,  however,  was  a  fibrous  chlorite  apparently  pseudomorphic 
after  biotite. 

"The  clay  was  undoubtedly  deposited  in  a  lake  which  was 
probably  saline.  It  is  possibly  'bentonite'  or  altered  volcanic  ash, 
but  this  cannot  be  proved  by  physical  examination. 

North  America  173 

"The  property  of  swelling  by  taking  up  considerable  quantity  of 
water  when  immersed  suggests  that  perhaps  this  clay  was  of  value 
in  giving  a  sense  of  repletion  to  a  relatively  empty  stomach." 

W.  Hough  (in  Handbook  of  American  Indians,  I,  p.  467)  writes 
that  "in  some  localities  (among  the  Pueblos)  clay  was  eaten,  either 
alone  or  mixed  with  food  or  taken  in  connection  with  wild  potatoes 
to  mitigate  the  griping  effect  of  this  acrid  tuber."  In  this  case, 
accordingly,  the  clay  serves  as  a  soothing  medium  as  among  the 
Ainu  in  combination  with  the  bulb  of  a  Corydalis  (above,  p.  149). 

In  acute  indigestion  the  Papago  boil  for  a  little  while  some  of  the 
red  earth  taken  from  beneath  the  fire;  after  being  strained  a  little 
salt  is  added,  and  the  mixture  is  then  given  to  the  patient  to  drink. 
He  has  to  take  this  remedy  three  times,  always  at  mealtime,  and  he 
gets  nothing  or  at  most  very  little  to  eat  (A.  Hrdlicka,  Physiological 
and  Medical  Observations  among  the  Indians,  1908,  p.  241). 

The  Porno  of  California,  in  making  bread,  mix  red  earth  with 
acorn  meal.  Dr.  S.  A.  Barrett  has  been  good  enough  to  give  me  the 
following  information  on  this  point:  "The  fact  of  the  matter  is  that 
they  make  white  bread,  as  it  is  called,  without  a  mixture  of  earth, 
but  this  is  not  esteemed  as  highly  as  the  black  bread,  which  is  as  a 
matter  of  fact  a  very  dark  brown  and  heavy  bread.  The  two  are 
made,  as  I  recall  it,  in  exactly  the  same  manner,  except  for  this 
mixture  of  a  very  small  quantity  of  a  reddish  earth,  which  the 
Indians  say  serves  as  our  yeast  does.  There  is  nothing,  however,  in 
the  way  of  'raising'  of  the  dough,  but  the  red  earth  is  simply  mixed, 
and  the  dough  is  placed  in  the  oven  to  bake  at  once.  The  oven,  of 
course,  is  nothing  more  or  less  than  a  hole  in  the  ground,  which  is 
lined  with  leaves  and  filled  with  layers  of  this  dough  and  hot  stones, 
the  latter  being  separated  from  the  dough  by  layers  of  leaves.  It 
bakes  slowly,  but  is  really  a  very  palatable  food.  I  am  not  sure 
how  this  earth  actually  affects  the  dough,  as  I  have  never  had  an 
opportunity  to  look  up  the  actual  chemical  composition  of  this  red 
earth.  I  cannot  state  definitely  the  geographical  distribution  of 
this  particular  custom  in  California,  but  as  I  recall  it  now,  it  is  not 
found  among  the  Miwok  with  whom  I  have  worked  to  a  considerable 
extent,  though  not  as  fully  as  among  the  Porno.  The  Miwok  method 
of  handling  acorn  meal  and  bread  is  quite  different  from  that  of  the 
Porno  in  several  respects.  I  might  add  that  there  is  a  certain  whitish 
or  bluish  white  clay  which  was  to  a  certain  extent  used  by  the  Porno, 
though  this  was  not  used  with  anything  else  and  is  said  by  them  to 
be  a  food  of  itself.    I  do  not  now  recall  having  encountered  the  use  of 

174  Geophagy 

this  whitish  or  bluish  white  clay  among  any  of  the  other  Californian 
tribes  with  which  I  came  more  or  less  in  contact,  though  it  may  be 
that  it  is  such  a  slight  part  of  their  food  supply  that  unless  one  was 
specifically  hunting  for  it,  it  would  be  very  easily  overlooked." 

In  a  creation  myth  of  the  Cahuilla  of  California  an  incidental 
allusion  to  earth-eating  on  the  part  of  the  first  people  is  made. 
Mukat,  in  a  dispute  with  Temaiyauit,  says,  "There  will  not  be 
enough  food  for  all  of  them."  "They  can  eat  earth,"  said  Temaiyauit. 
"But  they  will  then  eat  up  all  the  earth,"  answered  Mukat,  and 
Temaiyauit  replied,  "No,  for  by  our  power  it  will  be  swelling  again" 
(W.  D.  Strong,  Aboriginal  Society  in  Southern  California,  p.  135, 
University  of  California  Press,  1929).  Of  course,  it  is  rather  the 
possibility  of  eating  earth  than  the  fact  itself,  which  is  here  alluded 
to;  but  if  eating  earth  was  regarded  as  possible,  actual  tests  ap- 
parently must  have  been  made. 

Sir  John  Richardson  (Arctic  Searching  Expedition,  1852,  p.  118) 
writes,  "A  pipe-clay  is  very  generally  associated  with  the  coal  beds, 
and  is  frequently  found  in  contact  with  the  lignite.  It  exists  in  beds 
varying  in  thickness  from  six  inches  to  a  foot,  and  is  generally  of  a 
yellowish-white  color,  but  in  some  places  has  a  light  lake-red  tint. 
It  is  smooth,  without  grittiness,  and  when  masticated  has  a  flavor 
somewhat  like  the  kernel  of  a  hazel-nut.  The  natives  eat  this  earth 
in  times  of  scarcity  and  suppose  that  thereby  they  prolong  their 

With  reference  to  this  passage,  Frank  Russell  (Explorations  in 
the  Far  North,  p.  133,  publ.  by  University  of  Iowa)  remarks,  "I 
found  the  bed  of  edible  clay,  mentioned  by  Richardson,  near  the 
base  of  the  cliff.  It  is  used  for  whitewashing  at  Norman,  and  is 
said  to  have  been  used  as  a  substitute  for  soap  by  the  Indians  before 
the  introduction  of  that  article  by  the  traders.  Norman  stands  at 
the  mouth  of  the  Bear  River  near  the  Bear  Rock,  a  solitary  butte 
over  four  thousand  feet  in  height."  The  Indians  here  in  question 
are  Athabascans  of  northwestern  Canada. 

V.  Stefansson  (Arctic  Expedition  of  the  American  Museum, 
Anthr.  Papers  Am.  Mus.  Nat.  Hist.,  XIV,  1914,  p.  395)  has  the 
following  entry  in  his  diary  under  the  heading  "Edible  Earth": — 

"Bought  to-night  a  tin  full  of  'edible  clay'  from  a  cutbank  on  the 
Kanianirk  part  of  the  Colville  (S.  bank)  between  the  Killirk  and 
Ninnolik  branches.  The  specimen  is  in  flakes  and  powder.  Seller 
considered  the  clay  a  true  food,  but  says  it  is  eaten  in  large  quantities 

North  America  175 

only  at  times  of  scarcity  or  when  travelers  run  out  of  food.  Many 
eat  a  little  now  and  then,  seller  (Kanianirmiut  woman)  says  she  puts 
a  little  on  her  tongue  almost  every  day  and  lets  it  soak  up  there 
till  soft.  She  gets  presents  every  year  now  of  similar  stuff  up  the 
coast,  but  the  sample  sold  me  has  been  treasured  for  years.  When 
clay  is  to  be  used  in  earnest  as  food,  it  should  be  let  soak  in  water 
over  night  or  longer;  it  then  disintegrates  and  swells  into  a  thick 
paste,  seems  to  increase  in  bulk  rather  more  than  rice  does  in  boil- 
ing. When  about  to  be  eaten,  this  paste  is  mixed  up  in  a  little  more 
water  to  make  it  thinner,  and  then  it  is  poured  into  hot  water  in  a 
pot  and  cooked  'like  flour  soup,'  i.e.,  brought  to  a  boil.  'This  is 
good  food  if  one  has  oil  with  it;  otherwise  it  constipates  you.'  The 
seller,  however,  considers  the  clay  to  be  rich  in  a  tasteless  and  smell- 
less  oil  which  she  says  the  old  men  say  is  old  whale-oil  that  soaked 
down  the  cutbank  from  whales  whose  bones  (lower  upper  jaws, 
shoulder-blades,  ribs,  backbone,  etc.)  are  seen  near  the  top  of  the 
cutbank  far  above." 

The  Iglulik  Eskimo  have  a  tradition  relating  to  the  early  history 
of  mankind  when  men  had  only  earth  for  food.  "In  earliest  times 
it  was  very  difficult  for  men  to  hunt.  They  were  not  such  skilful 
hunters  as  those  who  live  now.  They  had  not  so  many  hunting  im- 
plements, and  did  not  enjoy  an  abundance  and  variety  of  food  such 
as  we  have  now.  In  my  childhood  I  heard  old  people  say  that  once 
long  long  ago  men  ate  of  the  earth.  Our  forefathers  ate  of  the  earth; 
when  halting  on  a  journey  and  camping,  they  worked  the  soil  with 
picks  of  caribou-horn,  breaking  up  the  earth  and  searching  for  food. 
This  happened  in  the  days  when  it  was  very  difficult  to  kill  a  caribou, 
and  it  is  said  that  they  had  to  make  a  single  animal  last  all  summer 
and  autumn.  Therefore  they  were  obliged  to  seek  other  food.  .  .  . 
In  those  days  earth  was  the  principal  food  of  man"  (K.  Rasmussen, 
Intellectual  Culture  of  the  Iglulik  Eskimos,  p.  253,  Copenhagen, 

A  certain  outward  resemblance  of  this  tradition  to  the  Indie  one 
in  the  Vinayavastu  (above,  p.  144)  is  obvious,  as  is  also  the  diversity 
of  the  two  stories.  In  the  Indie  one  earth  is  considered  a  superior 
food  of  the  golden  age,  in  the  Eskimoan  one  it  is  an  inferior  food 
resorted  to  for  lack  of  better  staples  in  the  beginning  of  life.  Of 
course,  such  a  stage  of  living,  as  visualized  in  the  Eskimo  tradition, 
has  never  existed;  it  is  an  afterthought  reconstruction,  but  maybe 
at  the  same  time  a  vague  reminiscence  of  earth  having  formerly 
been  consumed  on  a  larger  scale  than  at  the  present  time. 

176  Geophagy 

Lieutenant  G.  T.  Emmons,  who  has  had  a  thirty-five  years' 
experience  with  the  tribes  of  the  Northwest  Coast,  assures  me  that 
he  has  never  seen  or  heard  of  a  single  case  of  clay-eating  among  any 
of  these.  Clay  or  earth  is  not  mentioned  either  by  Harlan  I.  Smith 
in  his  article  "Materia  Medica  of  the  Bella  Coola  and  Neighboring 
Tribes  of  British  Columbia"  (Annual  Report  for  1927  of  National 
Museum  of  Canada,  Ottawa,  1929). 

It  would  be  erroneous  to  believe  that  earth-eating  is  a  privilege 
of  the  Indians.  It  is  found  among  the  whites  as  well,  especially  in 
Georgia  and  Carolina.  In  1709  T.  Lawson  (History  of  Carolina, 
p.  206,  London,  1714)  recorded  this  observation:  "The  children  [of 
the  Indians]  are  much  addicted  to  eat  dirt,  and  so  are  some  of  the 
Christians,  but  roast  a  bat  on  a  skeiver  and  make  the  child  that  eats 
dirt  eat  the  roasted  rearmouse  (bat),  and  he  will  never  eat  dirt 
again."  In  1857  J.  R.  Cotting  published  the  analysis  of  a  species 
of  clay  found  in  Richmond  County,  Georgia,  which,  as  announced 
in  the  title  of  his  article,  "is  eagerly  sought  after  and  eaten  by 
many  people,  particularly  children."  This  substance,  in  its  external 
characters,  he  writes,  resembles  lithomarge,  or  rock  marrow;  its 
colors  are  dark  red,  yellow,  yellowish  red,  yellowish  white,  purple 
and  reddish  white.  He  found  it  associated  with  other  minerals  in 
many  parts  of  the  survey,  in  both  the  counties  of  Burke  and  Rich- 
mond, but  the  purest  and  most  abundant  was  on  land  of  David  F. 
Dickinson  near  M'Bean  Creek,  Richmond  County,  on  the  east  side 
of  the  great  road  leading  from  Augusta  to  Savannah,  about  fourteen 
miles  from  the  former  place.  Here  large  excavations  had  been  made 
to  obtain  this  clay,  indicating  that  the  demand  for  it  must  have  been 
heavy.  It  has  a  slight  sweetish  taste,  not  unlike  calcined  magnesia. 
Its  action  on  the  stomach  is  mechanical,  as  it  contains  nothing  cap- 
able of  being  decomposed  and  nothing  on  which  the  gastric  juice  can 
act.  It  is  composed  of  silex,  oxid  of  iron,  alumina,  magnesia,  and 

A  boy  about  fifteen  years  of  age,  who  was  taking  his  favorite  re- 
past at  that  locality,  informed  Cotting  that  he  was  in  the  habit  of 
eating  daily  of  that  substance,  "as  much  as  he  could  hold  in  his 
hand."  Cotting  asked  the  boy  whether  his  parents  did  not  inform 
him  better.  He  replied  that  he  had  only  a  mother  and  that  she  ate 
it  too  when  she  was  well,  but  that  she  was  almost  always  sick. 
Cotting  was  informed  by  people  living  in  the  vicinity  of  the  localities 
where  this  clay  occurs  that  many  deaths  have  resulted  there  from 
no  other  perceptible  cause  than  from  persisting  in  the  use  of  this 

North  America  177 

clay  as  a  luxury.  Cotting  adds  that  this  peculiar  species  of  clay  is 
said  not  to  be  found  north  of  the  Potomac  and  that  a  species  in 
some  respects  similar  is  found  at  Bare-hills,  Maryland,  which,  how- 
ever, is  deficient  in  the  proportion  of  iron  and  magnesia. 

The  Redbones  (see  Handbook  of  American  Indians,  I,  p.  365)  of 
Carolina  are  reputed  to  be  clay-eaters. 


The  use  of  earth  in  ancient  Mexico  is  particularly  interesting, 
especially  in  its  relation  to  religious  ceremonies. 

"A  peculiar  food  of  the  ancient  Mexicans  seen  by  the  conquerors 
consisted  of  cakes  made  from  a  sort  of  ooze  which  they  get  out  of 
the  great  lake,  which  curdles,  and  from  this  they  make  a  bread 
having  a  flavor  something  like  cheese"  (T.  A.  Joyce,  Mexican  Archae- 
ology, p.  155).  The  source  is  not  quoted  by  Joyce.  Ehrenberg  (II 
p.  3)  writes,  "Earth-eating  was  reported  in  Mexico  as  early  as  1494 
and  in  1519  by  Bernal  de  Diaz  as  the  relish  tecuitlatl  from  the  Lake 
of  Mexico,  which  was  confirmed  by  Hernandez  in  1580." 

The  following  documents  have  reference  to  this  matter.  Sahagun 
(book  XI,  chap.  3,  at  end  of  §5)  informs  us  that  "on  the  Lake  of 
Mexico  is  found  a  substance  (urronas)  called  tecuitlatl,  clear  blue  in 
color;  when  it  forms  a  thick  layer,  it  is  gathered,  spread  out  on  ashes, 
and  formed  into  cakes  which  are  baked  and  then  eaten." 

Bernal  Diaz  refers  to  the  same  matter  in  two  passages  (chaps. 
92  and  153;  translation  of  A.  P.  Maudslay,  II,  p.  73;  IV,  p.  160). 
In  the  former  he  speaks  of  fisherwomen  and  others  who  sell  small 
loaves  made  from  a  sort  of  ooze  gathered  on  the  Lake  of  Mexico; 
this  ooze  curdles  or  coagulates,  and  can  be  cut  up  into  slices  the 
taste  of  which  reminds  one  a  little  of  our  cheese.  In  the  other  chapter 
he  writes,  "They  gathered  on  the  Lake  a  sort  of  ooze  which  when 
dried  had  a  flavor  like  cheese."  D.  Jourdanet  (in  his  French  transla- 
tion of  Diaz'  work,  p.  517)  comments  that  "the  Indians  of  the  pre- 
sent time  still  collect  on  the  banks  of  the  lagoon  a  mass  said  to 
consist  of  the  eggs  of  gnats  mixed  with  a  gelatinous  substance  which 
comes  from  the  swarms  of  these  insects  (called  agua-utle);  it  has 
indeed  a  strong  flavor  like  bad  cheese." 

F.  Lopez  de  Gomara  (Historia  de  Mexico,  p.  118,  Antwerp, 
1554),  describing  the  market,  relates,  "They  eat  everything,  even 
earth.  At  a  certain  time  of  the  year  they  sweep  up  with  nets  of  a 
fine  mesh  a  fine  substance  which  grows  on  the  water  of  the  lakes  of 
Mexico  and  coagulates.  It  is  not  a  plant  or  earth,  but  is  like  mire. 
There  is  a  lot  of  it,  and  they  collect  much  of  it,  and  spreading  it 
out  in  the  way  salt  is  prepared,  they  empty  it  out,  and  there  it 
coagulates  and  dries.  They  make  of  it  cakes  like  bricks.  Not  only 
do  they  sell  it  in  the  market,  but  also  they  take  it  to  other  markets 


Mexico  and  Central  *\merica  179 

outside  the  city  far  away.  They  eat  it  as  we  eat  cheese,  and  it  has 
a  slightly  saltish  taste;  with  chilmolli  it  is  savory.  They  say,  too, 
that  so  many  birds  crave  this  article  on  the  lake  that  during  the 
winter  they  cover  many  parts  of  its  surface."  Chilmolli  is  a  ragout 
or  soup  in  which  chili  dominates. 

F.  Juan  de  Torquemada  (Monarchia  indiana,  1723,  book  XIV, 
chap.  14;  II,  p.  557),  evidently  depending  on  Gomara,  has  this 
account:  "On  the  surface  of  the  water  of  this  lake  grow  some  things 
like  finely  ground  slime,  and  at  a  certain  time  of  the  year  when  they 
are  more  solidified  the  Indians  gather  them  with  fine  meshed  nets. 
They  take  them  out  of  the  water  onto  the  earth  or  sand  of  the  shore 
and  spread  them  out  till  they  dry,  and  then  make  cakes  of  them 
two  fingers  thick,  which  subsequently  dry  out  to  one  finger-breadth 
when  they  are  ripe.  When  they  are  well  dry,  the  people  cut  them 
like  small  bricks,  and  eat  them  as  though  they  were  of  cheese. 
The  Indians  think  they  have  a  very  fine  flavor,  but  they  are  rather 
salty.  Of  this  they  send  a  goodly  quantity  to  the  markets,  and  of 
another  food  which  they  call  tecuitlatl,  although  at  present  these 
two  kinds  are  lost  and  no  longer  appear,  and  I  do  not  know  whether 
the  reason  is  that  the  Indians  have  taken  to  our  food  and  no  longer 
care  for  their  own."  The  word  tecuitlatl  is  listed  in  the  "Diction- 
naire  de  la  langue  nahuatl  ou  mexicaine"  (p.  404)  of  R.  Simeon  with 
the  following  definition:  "A  viscous  substance  (lit.  'excrement  of 
stones')  gathered  amidst  of  the  plants  of  Lake  Tezcuco;  this  sub- 
stance is  dried  at  the  sun,  and  is  preserved  to  be  eaten  like  cheese. 
The  Indians  consume  it  at  present  and  confer  upon  it  the  name 
cuculito  del  agua." 

Cf.  also  the  notes  of  D.  Jourdanet  in  his  translation  of  Sahagun 
(p.  854). 

Midwives  give  to  pregnant  women  the  advice  that  they  must 
abstain  from  eating  earth  and  ticatl  ("a  sort  of  white  earth"),  for 
fear  that  the  infant  when  born  might  be  sick  or  disfigured  by  a 
bodily  defect  (Sahagun,  book  VI,  chap.  27) .  This  rule  seems  to  imply 
that  pregnant  women  in  ancient  Mexico  were  in  the  habit  of  long- 
ing for  earth. 

Joseph  de  Acosta  (Historia  natural  y  moral  de  las  Indias,  p.  382, 
book  V,  chap.  28,  Madrid,  1608)  describes  a  ceremony  in  ancient 
Mexico  in  honor  of  Tezcatlipoca,  god  of  the  night  and  particularly 
night  winds.  During  the  ceremony  the  priest  blew  a  pottery  flute, 
and  after  playing  it  toward  the  four  points  of  the  compass  whereby 
he  meant  to  indicate  that  both  those  present  and  absent  heard  him, 

180  Geophagy 

he  placed  his  finger  in  the  soil,  and  seizing  earth,  shoved  it  into  his 
mouth  and  ate  it  as  a  sign  of  adoration;  the  same  was  done  by  all 
who  were  present  (Y  aviendo  tanido  hazia  las  quatro  partes  del 
mundo,  denotando  que  los  presentes  y  ausentes  le  oian,  ponia  el 
dedo  en  el  suelo,  y  cogiendo  tierra  con  el  metia  en  la  boca,  y  la 
comia  en  serial  de  adoracion,  y  lo  mismo  hazian  todos  los  presentes, 
etc.).  This  ceremony  was  performed  ten  days  before  the  feast,  for 
the  purpose  that  all  might  attend  this  worship  in  eating  earth  and 
demand  from  the  god  whatever  they  pleased.  Torquemada  (Mon- 
archia  indiana,  1723,  book  X,  chap.  14,  II,  p.  256)  describes  the 
same  ceremony  as  follows:  "Ten  days  before  the  big  feast  to  Tezca- 
tlipoca,  in  the  month  Toxcatl,  the  priest  came  out  of  the  temple 
with  a  flute  with  a  shrill  note,  and  facing  in  turn  all  four  directions, 
played  it.  This  was  to  call  all  men's  attention  to  the  coming  feast. 
Then  there  was  silence,  and  putting  his  finger  on  the  ground,  he  used 
to  take  earth,  and  used  to  put  it  in  his  mouth  and  eat  it  as  a  sign  of 
humility  and  adoration.  Every  one  did  the  same,  weeping  bitterly, 
throwing  himself  prostrate  on  the  ground,  invoking  the  obscurity 
of  the  night  and  the  wind  and  asking  them  with  fervor  not  to  leave 
them  shelterless  or  forget  -them." 

F.  Lopez  de  Gomara  (Historia  de  Mexico,  p.  100,  Antwerp,  1554) 
reports  that  when  three  thousand  nobles  came  out  from  Mexico  to 
meet  Cortes,  "each  one  as  he  reached  Cortes  touched  his  right  hand 
to  the  ground,  kissed  it,  bowed  down,  and  passed  forward  in  the  order 
in  which  they  came"  (Cada  uno,  como  a  Cortes  llegaba,  tocaba  su 
mano  derecha  en  tierra,  besabala,  humillabase,  y  passaba  adelante 
por  la  orden  que  venian).  The  Spanish  text  is  somewhat  ambiguous: 
it  is  not  clear  whether  they  kissed  their  own  hands  or  the  ground, 
but  more  probably  the  latter  as  a  sign  of  humiliation  and  adoration 
as  in  the  ceremony  previously  described.  Gomara  (p.  305)  relates 
also  that  during  the  ceremonies  accompanying  the  induction  of  a 
new  ruler  in  Mexico,  nobles  as  they  approached  the  image  of  Hui- 
tzilopochtli  (Vitzilopuchtli),  god  of  war,  touched  the  ground  with 
one  of  their  fingers  and  then  kissed  this  finger. 

Juan  Suarez  de  Cepeda,  in  1581,  reports  that  the  Tarascans  on 
the  west  coast  of  Mexico,  on  the  occasion  of  an  eclipse  ("when  the 
mother  goddess  playing  with  sun  or  moon  puts  her  hands  over  them 
so  that  the  light  is  shut  off")  make  noises  and  eat  earth  and  stones 
till  the  eclipse  is  over  ("till  the  mother  goddess  returns  home"). 
He  further  relates,  "As  soon  as  the  people  see  the  stars  which  are 
known  as  the  Pleiades  and  which  in  their  due  course  according  to 

Mexico  and  Central  America  181 

the  movements  of  the  heavens  appear  on  the  horizon,  they  run  to 
eat,  and  do  eat  stones  and  clods  of  earth,  just  as  if  they  were  turrones 
[a  kind  of  candy  like  nougat,  very  popular  in  Spain]  and  honey  cakes, 
and  they  say  they  do  this  so  that  their  teeth  may  be  strengthened, 
and  kept  firmly  in  position  so  that  they  do  not  fall  out.  And  thus 
they  expect  will  happen  to  them,  feeling  like  beasts,  the  opposite 
effect  of  what  they  try  for  and  would  wish"  (De  Cepeda,  Relacion 
de  los  Indios  Colimas  de  la  Nueva  Granada.  Anales  del  Museo 
Nacional,  IV,  Mexico,  1912,  pp.  516,  517).  This  last  sentence  would 
appear  to  be  corrupt;  it  would  seem  to  suggest  that  if  their  teeth 
do  become  loosened  they  are  very  put  out  about  it. 

It  was  customary  among  the  Aztec  that  in  a  certain  form  of 
sworn  treaty  the  person  rendering  the  oath  put  his  finger  on  the  soil 
and  then  lifted  his  finger  to  his  mouth  as  though  he  was  eating  earth. 
In  the  same  manner  witnesses  also  rendered  an  oath  (J.  Kohler, 
Recht  der  Azteken,  pp.  71,  109;  and  A.  H.  Post,  Grundriss  der 
ethnologischen  Jurisprudenz,  I,  p.  483). 

The  passages  quoted  have  not  been  revealed  by  any  previous 
writer  on  geophagy,  but  they  are  important  in  showing  that  the 
custom  is  of  ancient  date  in  Mexico  and  roots  deeply  in  religious 
rites  and  practices.  Lasch  (p.  217)  states  merely  that  earth-eating 
is  frequent  in  Mexico,  notably  among  women  and  children,  and 
that  in  Guadalajara,  San  Luis,  Puebla,  and  other  places  are  sold  on 
the  markets  pastils  made  of  white,  lightly  baked  clay  and  said  to  be 
of  good  flavor.  In  regard  to  the  Maya  of  southern  British  Honduras 
Mr.  J.  Eric  Thompson  informs  me  that  "they  are  fond  of  eating  a 
kind  of  white  chalk  which  they  find  in  the  'fill'  of  pyramids.  In 
reply  to  a  question  as  to  why  they  eat  this  substance  they  state 
that  it  tastes  good  and  is  good  for  them.  Personally  I  considered  it 
absolutely  tasteless.  Children  in  the  Maya  villages  are  fond  of  eat- 
ing earth.  Constant  earth-eaters  are  said  to  suffer  badly  from  hook- 
worm. Medical  authorities  with  whom  I  discussed  this  question 
differed  as  to  whether  hookworm  was  the  cause  or  the  effect  of  this 

The  fact  that  geophagy  is  still  prevalent  in  Mexico  may  be 
gleaned  from  the  following  very  interesting  information  kindly  sent 
me  by  Professor  Marshall  H.  Saville  of  the  Museum  of  the  American 
Indian,  New  York: — 

"Thirty  years  ago  I  visited  the  town  of  Etla  in  the  state  of 
Oaxaca,  in  a  valley  running  west  from  the  Oaxaca  valley,  and  some 
eighteen  miles  from  the  city  of  Oaxaca.    This  town  is  now,  and  so 

182  Geophagy 

far  as  the  archaeology  is  concerned,  has  always  been  occupied  by 
the  Zapotec  Indians. 

"I  made  this  visit  in  order  to  collect  from  the  various  groups  of 
Indians  from  different  parts  of  the  state,  who  assembled  here  during 
the  time  of  the  fiestas  celebrated  annually  in  honor  of  the  patron 
saint  of  Etla. 

"The  church  in  which  the  saint  is  preserved  was  built  in  early 
colonial  times  on  the  pyramidal  base  of  an  ancient  temple,  which,  in 
turn,  had  been  erected  on  rising  ground  from  which  in  places  the 
bedrock  projected.  The  ancient  Mexicans  often  took  advantages  of 
such  eminences,  and  the  Christian  priests  often  razed  these  old 
temples  to  replace  them  with  churches.  The  fame  of  the  Virgin  of 
Etla  is  widespread  throughout  the  Indian  country  of  the  state  of 

"Nearing  the  town  I  saw  many  Indians  in  family  groups  return- 
ing to  their  own  villages,  as  this  was  the  last  day  of  the  fiesta.  Many 
of  them  had  their  faces  covered  with  dust  or  powder;  in  fact,  they 
were  very  dirty.  Others  were  busily  engaged  in  eating  powder  from 
a  gourd  held  in  their  hands.  Even  the  little  children  were  thus 
engaged.  On  getting  closer  to  the  church  I  heard  the  noise  of  ham- 
mering, and  saw  many  Indians  industriously  hammering  off  pieces 
of  the  rock  in  the  pyramid  upon  which  the  church  stood.  A  con- 
siderable section  of  this  base  looked  like  a  miniature  quarry.  The 
rock  was  obtained  by  means  of  stone  hammers,  and  the  pieces  ground 
into  powder  by  means  of  the  said  stone  hammers.  I  am  sorry  that 
I  did  not  get  a  sample  of  the  rock,  nor  do  I  know  to  what  class  it 
belongs.    However,  it  was  quite  soft  and  easily  reduced  to  dust. 

"I  afterwards  learned  that  the  Indians  not  only  considered  it 
efficacious  for  liver  troubles,  but  that  coming  from  this  hallowed  spot, 
probably  having  reference  to  olden  times,  taking  this  powder  which 
was  endowed  with  magical  powers,  insured  their  welfare  for  months 
to  come. 

"Father  Mayer  has  just  told  me  that  an  Indian  boy  who  recently 
went  with  him  on  a  collecting  trip  for  us  up  the  Tapajoz  River,  from 
Santarem,  Amazonia,  picked  up  a  clay  ball  from  a  site  where  pottery 
had  been  fabricated,  and  proceeded  to  eat  it,  saying  that  it  was 
'good  to  eat.' 

"I  have  seen  in  the  materia  medica  of  native  Indian  villages  in 
Mexico  and  Ecuador  pieces  of  soft  stone  among  the  herbs,  insects, 
etc.,  which  are  sold  by  the  primitive  Indian  woman  for  medicine." 

Mexico  and  Central  America  183 

According  to  0.  Stoll  (Guatemala,  1886,  p.  133),  the  custom  of 
eating  certain  kinds  of  earth  is  generally  practised  among  the  Indians 
of  Guatemala,  and  they  do  not  keep  it  secret.  The  earth  principally 
used  by  them  is  a  light  yellowish  gray,  strongly  odorous  substance 
which  is  a  volcanic  product  weathered  away  into  a  powder.  It  is 
perfectly  insipid  and  tastes  somewhat  like  chalk.  The  Indians  prize 
it  as  a  spice  of  excellent  quality  and  call  it  "white  sweetness"  (sak 
cab).  Certain  it  is  that  this  earth  is  a  substitute  for  tooth-powder 
and  contributes  to  preserve  their  white  teeth.  The  quantity  eaten 
at  a  time  is  small,  as  it  is  merely  scattered  over  the  food.  Another 
way  of  consuming  clayish  materials  is  connected  with  religious  ideas. 
The  people  who  travel  to  the  famous  place  of  pilgrimage,  Esquipulas, 
will  take  along  from  there  blessed  figures  of  saints  made  from  a 
powdered  earth  by  the  clergy.  These  figures  (benditos)  are  eaten  by 
the  devout,  or  are  given  away  by  them  to  friends  and  relatives,  being 
credited  with  the  power  of  relieving  existing  diseases  and  preventing 

Stoll  affirms  that  geophagy  is  a  genuine  Indian  custom  which  is 
very  ancient;  for  in  the  Popol  Vuh  the  two  magicians,  Hunahpu  and 
Xbalanque,  rub  earth  into  the  roasted  birds  with  which  they  poison 
Cabrakan.  The  fact  itself  is  correct,  yet  I  do  not  believe  that  the 
story  of  the  Popol  Vuh  can  be  invoked  as  an  example  of  earth-eating 
in  ancient  times.  In  the  text  under  consideration  (translation  of 
Brasseur  de  Bourbourg,  p.  65,  Paris,  1861;  Villacorta  and  Rodas, 
Manuscrito  de  Chichicastenango,  p.  206,  Guatemala,  1927),  Hu- 
nahpu and  Xbalanque  employ  the  earth  as  a  ruse  to  overcome 
Cabrakan.  "This  bird,"  they  say,  "will  be  the  means  of  his  defeat; 
in  the  same  manner  as  white  earth  will  envelop  this  bird  all  over 
through  our  care,  we  shall  knock  him  down  on  the  earth,  and  in  the 
earth  we  shall  bury  him."  Cabrakan,  after  eating  the  bird,  staggers 
and  has  no  more  strength  on  account  of  the  earth  rubbed  into  the 
bird.  Moreover,  it  was  only  this  one  bird  which  was  treated  in  this 
manner  for  the  purpose  of  bringing  about  Cabrakan's  downfall,  not, 
however,  the  other  birds  which  were  plainly  roasted  at  the  fire  with- 
out application  of  earth.  It  cannot  even  be  inferred  from  this  passage 
that  birds  were  generally  baked  in  earth  at  that  time;  it  was  merely  a 
single  specific  case,  a  trick  devised  for  the  purpose  of  capturing 
Cabrakan.  The  body  of  the  bird  was  rubbed  in  with  tizate,  and  then 
white  dust  was  sprinkled  around  it.  The  word  tizate  is  explained  by 
De  Bourbourg  as  being  derived  from  Nahuatl  tiQatl,  "a  whitish 
earth,  very  friable,  of  which  they  avail  themselves  to  polish  metal, 

184  Geophagy 

make  cement,  etc."  (see  above,  p.  179).  The  Spanish  translation 
runs,  "Y  a  uno  de  ellos  (pajaros)  le  pusieron  tizate  encima,  que  es 
una  tierra  blanca,  que  rue"  lo  que  le  pusieron."  Nevertheless  I  am 
convinced  with  Stoll  that  geophagy  is  very  old  in  Guatemala  and 
certainly  goes  back  to  pre-Columbian  times. 

With  reference  to  the  treatment  of  the  bird  in  the  preceding 
legend  it  may  be  called  to  mind  that  according  to  A.  Skinner  (Mater- 
ial Culture  of  the  Menomini,  1921,  p.  194)  meat  was  often  roasted 
on  coals  by  the  Menomini  and  that  small  animals  were  sometimes 
rolled  up  in  clay  and  baked  in  the  hot  ashes;  this  was  a  favorite 
method  of  dealing  with  porcupines;  when  the  clay  shell  was  split 
Open,  the  quills  and  hide  of  the  animal  adhered  to  the  mold,  and  the 
roast  came  out  clean. 

Stoll  also  mentions  the  morbid  geophagy  of  children  and  adults 
who  devour  indiscriminately  all  kinds  of  earthy  substances.  Popular 
opinion  ascribes  to  this  habit  a  number  of  pathological  symptoms, 
which  is  called  into  doubt  by  Stoll;  he  is  convinced  that  many  child- 
ren indulge  in  this  habit  without  risking  disease  and  that  others  who 
acquire  the  complex  of  diseases  in  question  do  not  really  eat  earth. 

The  Guatuso  Indians  of  Costa  Rica  do  not  use  salt,  but  are 
said  by  Bishop  B.  Thiel  of  San  Jose*  to  enjoy  a  clayish  earth  in  lieu  of 
it  (K.  Sapper,  Mittelamerikanische  Reisen  und  Studien,  1902,  p.  232). 

W.  Sheldon  (Brief  Account  of  the  Caraibs  who  inhabited  the 
Antilles,  Transactions  Am.  Antiquarian  Soc,  I,  1820,  p.  412)  has 
the  following  note:  "The  Caraibs  as  well  as  the  Negroes,  when  in 
a  state  of  melancholy,  sometimes  hanged  themselves;  or  they  would 
eat  earth  and  filth  until  they  brought  on  dropsies  or  other  fatal 
disorders,  which  occasioned  their  death.  The  pernicious  habit  of 
eating  earth  appears  to  be  endemical  in  the  Westindia  islands. 
The  white  Creoles  are  not  free  from  a  propension  to  this  depraved 
appetite;  and  I  have  heard  it  much  spoken  of  as  prevailing  among 
the  people  of  Georgia  and  the  Carolinas.  The  Caraib  slaves  would 
eat  earth  whenever  they  were  punished  or  thwarted." 

T.  Young  (Narrative  of  a  Residence  on  the  Mosquito  Shore  dur- 
ing the  Years  1839-41,  p.  76,  London,  1842)  writes,  "The  Sambo 
girls  have  a  custom  of  eating  charcoal  and  sand  to  obtain  it  fresh 
and  moist,  and  they  have  appeared  to  enjoy  it  with  great  gusto." 
The  Sambo  are  descendants  of  Indians  and  Negroes  who  escaped 
from  a  wrecked  slave  ship,  and  live  on  the  Mosquito  Coast,  Nicaragua. 

Regarding  geophagy  of  the  Negroes  in  the  West  Indies,  see 
above,  p.  159. 


Mention  has  been  made  of  earth-eating  as  a  means  of  com- 
mitting suicide  among  Negro  slaves.  The  same  is  reported  with 
reference  to  the  Tupinamba  of  Brazil  by  Gabriel  Soares  de  Sousa 
in  his  interesting  "Noticia  do  Brazil"  (chap.  161,  Noticias  ultra- 
marinas,  III,  pt.  1,  p.  289),  written  in  1587.  This  is  one  of  the 
earliest  accounts  of  earth-eating  in  America  and  certainly  the  earli- 
est relative  to  South  America;  it  has  thus  far  been  overlooked  by 
every  one  who  has  written  on  the  subject.  "This  people,"  Soares 
writes,  "has  another  very  great  barbarity:  when  they  are  seized  by 
disgust  or  when  they  are  grieved  to  such  a  degree  that  they  are 
determined  to  die,  they  begin  to  eat  earth,  every  day  a  little,  until 
they  emaciate  and  their  face  and  eyes  will  swell,  and  they  will 
finally  die;  no  one  can  help  them  or  is  able  to  dissuade  them  from 
committing  suicide,  as  they  affirm  that  the  devil  has  taught  it  to 
them  and  that  he  appears  to  them  whenever  they  are  determined  to 
eat  earth." 

Alexander  von  Humboldt's  observations  were  made  on  June  6, 
1800,  when  traveling  down  the  Orinoco  he  spent  a  day  in  the  village 
called  La  Concepcion  de  Uruana.    His  account  is  as  follows: — 

"In  the  midst  of  this  grand  and  savage  nature  live  many  tribes 
of  men,  isolated  from  each  other  by  the  extraordinary  diversity  of 
their  languages:  some  are  nomadic,  wholly  unacquainted  with  agri- 
culture, and  using  ants,  gums,  and  earth  as  food;  these,  as  the 
Otomac  and  Jarure,  seem  a  kind  of  outcasts  from  humanity. 

"It  was  a  very  prevalent  report  on  the  coasts  of  Cumana,  New 
Barcelona,  and  Caracas,  visited  by  the  Franciscan  monks  of  Guiana 
on  their  return  from  the  missions,  that  there  were  men  on  the  banks 
of  the  Orinoco  who  ate  earth.  .  .  .  The  earth  which  the  Otomac 
eat  is  a  soft  unctuous  clay;  a  true  potter's  clay,  of  a  yellowish-gray 
color  due  to  a  little  oxid  of  iron.  They  seek  for  it  in  particular 
spots  on  the  banks  of  the  Orinoco  and  the  Meta,  and  select  it  with 
care.  They  distinguish  the  taste  of  one  kind  of  earth  from  that  of 
another,  and  do  not  consider  all  clays  as  equally  agreeable  to  eat. 
They  knead  the  earth  into  balls  of  about  five  or  six  inches  diameter, 
which  they  burn  or  roast  by  a  weak  fire  until  the  outside  assumes  a 
reddish  tint.  The  balls  are  remoistened  when  about  to  be  eaten.  .  .  . 
During  the  periodical  swelling  of  the  rivers,  which  is  of  two  or  three 
months'  duration,  the  Otomac  swallow  great  quantities  of  earth. 


186  Geophagy 

We  found  considerable  stores  of  it  in  their  huts,  the  clay  balls  being 
piled  together  in  pyramidal  heaps.  The  very  intelligent  monk, 
Fray  Ramon  Bueno,  a  native  of  Madrid  (who  lived  twelve  years 
among  these  Indians),  assured  us  that  one  of  them  would  eat  from 
three  quarters  of  a  pound  to  a  pound  and  a  quarter  in  a  day.  Accord- 
ing to  the  accounts  which  the  Otomac  themselves  give,  this  earth 
forms  their  principal  subsistence  during  the  rainy  season,  though 
they  eat  at  the  same  time  occasionally,  when  they  can  obtain  it,  a 
lizard,  a  small  fish,  or  a  fern  root.  They  have  such  a  predilection 
for  the  clay,  that  even  in  the  dry  season,  when  they  can  obtain 
plenty  of  fish,  they  eat  a  little  earth  after  their  meals  every  day  as 
a  kind  of  dainty.  .  .  .  The  Franciscan  monk  assured  me  that  he 
could  perceive  no  alteration  in  their  health  during  the  earth-eating 

"The  simple  facts  are  therefore  as  follows:  The  Indians  eat 
large  quantities  of  earth  without  injury  to  their  health;  and  they 
themselves  regard  the  earth  so  eaten  as  an  alimentary  substance, 
i.e.,  they  feel  themselves  satisfied  by  eating  it,  and  that  for  a  con- 
siderable time;  and  they  attribute  this  to  the  earth  or  clay,  and  not 
to  the  other  scanty  articles  of  subsistence  which  they  now  and  then 
obtain  in  addition.  .  .  .  The  earth  which  we  brought  back  with  us, 
and  which  Vauquelin  analyzed,  is  thoroughly  pure  and  unmixed.  .  .  . 
That  the  health  of  the  Otomac  should  not  suffer  from  eating  so 
much  earth  appears  to  me  particularly  remarkable.  Have  they 
become  accustomed  to  it  in  the  course  of  several  generations? 

"In  all  tropical  countries,  human  beings  show  an  extraordinary 
and  almost  irresistible  desire  to  swallow  earth;  and  not  alkaline 
earths,  which  they  might  be  supposed  to  crave  to  neutralize  acid, 
but  unctuous  and  strong-smelling  clays.  .  .  .  With  the  exception 
of  the  Otomac,  individuals  of  all  other  races  who  indulge  for  any 
length  of  time  in  the  strange  desire  of  earth-eating  have  their  health 
injured  by  it.  Why  is  it  that  in  the  temperate  and  cold  zones  this 
morbid  craving  for  earth  is  so  much  more  rare,  and  is  almost  entirely 
confined,  when  it  is  met  with,  to  children  and  pregnant  women; 
while  in  the  tropics  it  would  appear  to  be  indigenous  in  all  quarters 
of  the  globe?" 

It  must  be  emphasized  that  Humboldt  himself  has  not  had  any 
personal  experience  of  the  effect  of  geophagy  on  the  Otomac.  As 
to  this  point,  he  has  depended  entirely  on  the  opinion  of  the  Fran- 
ciscan friar,  Ramon  Bueno,  and  the  lay  brother,  Juan  Gonzalez,  in 
whose  station  he  spent  the  day.    The  conclusion  that  the  Otomac 

South  America  187 

are  the  only  .people  whose  health  is  not  impaired  by  earth-eating 
(subsequently  repeated  by  many  authors)  does  not  seem  very  plaus- 
ible; no  ill  effects  are  reported,  for  instance,  from  Java,  Sumatra, 
Borneo,  or  Melanesia.  Cortambert's  observations  given  below  con- 
tradict Humboldt's  opinion.  The  conclusion  that  geophagy  is  more 
prevalent  in  the  tropics  than  in  the  temperate  and  cold  zones  holds 
good  no  longer,  and  is  plainly  refuted  by  the  facts  recorded  in  this 

J.  Gumilla  (Historia  del  Rio  Orinoco,  1791,  I,  p.  179),  said  to  be 
credulous  and  uncritical,  denies  that  the  Otomac  ever  eat  pure 
earth,  and  states  that  their  clay  balls  are  mixed  with  maize  flour 
and  crocodile's  fat;  but  the  two  informants  of  Humboldt  affirmed 
unanimously  that  the  Otomac  never  added  crocodile's  fat  to  their 
clay  balls,  and  as  to  maize,  they  had  never  heard  of  it  at  Uruana. 

E.  Cortambert  (p.  218)  gives  the  following  account  of  the  earth- 
eating  habit  among  the  tribes  of  the  upper  Orinoco:  "This  edible 
earth  is  a  clay  blended  with  iron  oxid,  reddish  yellow  in  color.  It 
is  kneaded  into  balls  or  cakes  allowed  to  dry  and  cooked  when  to  be 
eaten,  rather  a  ballast  for  the  stomach  than  a  food  and  commonly 
used  only  in  times  of  famine.  Although  this  clay  does  not  contain 
any  nutritive  properties,  it  acts  on  the  principal  organ  of  digestion 
to  such  a  degree  that  Indians  can  subsist  on  it  for  several  months 
without  any  other  resources.  They  sometimes  fry  it  in  seje  oil,  and 
then  it  offers  some  really  substantial  parts.  This  article  of  food,  in 
general,  does  not  affect  injuriously  the  health  of  those  who  are 
accustomed  to  it;  but  the  stomachs  unaccustomed  to  it  bear  it  with 
difficulty.  Obstructions  of  the  viscera  and  absorption  of  the  chyle 
are  the  consequences  most  to  be  dreaded  by  those  who  want  to 
partake  of  this  strange  dish.  The  Indians  who  lacking  in  modera- 
tion have  a  passion  for  earth  considerably  fall  off  in  weight,  and 
their  reddish  color  will  grow  sallow.  The  taste  for  clay  becomes  so 
intense  in  some  individuals  that  from  houses  made  of  ferruginous 
clay  they  will  break  off  pieces  and  take  them  into  their  mouth  with 
avidity.  They  are  discriminating  connoisseurs  of  clay,  for  not  all 
kinds  have  the  same  pleasant  taste  to  their  palate;  widely  varying 
qualities  are  distinguished.  A  few  whites  in  Venezuela  have  imi- 
tated the  savages  and  do  not  despise  cakes  of  fat  earth." 

W.  E.  Roth,  in  his  comprehensive  study  of  the  Guiana  Indians 
(Bureau  Am.  Ethn.,  38th  Annual  Report,  p.  225),  gives  no  observa- 
tions of  his  own,  but  quotes  J.  Gumilla,  Humboldt,  and  J.  Crevaux. 
Among  the  Otomac,  children  are  given  earth  to  lick  and  suck  by 

188  Geophagy 

their  mothers.     Their  bread  made  with  alligator  fat  consists,  at 
least  half  of  it,  of  chalky  earth  which,  however,  does  not  injure  them. 

According  to  J.  CreVaux,  all  the  Cayenne  Carib  are  earth- 
eaters.  In  each  house  are  found  clay  balls  which  the  Indians  smoke, 
dry,  and  eat  pulverized.  An  hour  after  each  meal  they  will  take  one 
of  these  balls,  remove  the  outer  layer  that  has  been  blackened, 
scrape  the  inside  with  a  knife,  and  thus  obtain  a  fine  powder  of  which 
they  swallow  five  or  six  grams  in  two  doses.  In  an  account  of 
CreVaux's  second  expedition  to  South  America  in  1878-79,  given  in 
Globus  (XL,  1881,  p.  262),  these  observations  are  made  in  reference 
to  the  Rucuyennes  of  Guiana.  Roth  adds  that  very  many  children 
on  the  upper  parts  of  the  Amazon  have  this  strange  habit  of  eating 
earth,  baked  clay,  pitch  wax,  and  other  similar  substances;  not  only 
Indians,  but  also  Negroes  and  whites.  No  conclusion,  however,  is 
drawn  from  this  observation,  which  goes  to  show  that  the  habit 
roots  in  a  physiological  cause. 

In  his  "Additional  Studies  of  the  Arts,  Crafts  and  Customs  of  the 
Guiana  Indians"  (Bureau  Am.  Ethn.,  Bull.  91,  1929,  p.  18)  W.  E. 
Roth  adds  the  following:  "In  Surinam  De  Goeje  speaks  of  a  hungry 
Trio  widow  eating  clay." 

"Near  the  Orinoco  there  is  a  tribe  of  savages  who  feed  upon  a 
species  of  unctuous  clay,  a  practice  which,  though  probably  the  out- 
growth of  necessity,  is  not  extremely  rare  throughout  the  Amazonian 
region.  This  clay,  which  is  said  to  have  a  milky  and  not  disagree- 
able taste,  is  a  species  of  marga,  or  marl-subpinguis  tenax,  as  it  is 
called — which  is  found  in  veins  of  varying  color.  It  is  smooth  and 
greasy,  dissolving  readily  in  the  mouth,  and  is  absorbed  into  the 
circulation"  (W.  G.  Mortimer,  History  of  Coca,  p.  288,  New  York, 

T.  Whiffen  (The  North-West  Amazons,  1915,  p.  124),  who 
stamps  clay-eating  as  a  "vice,"  says  that  geophagy  is  very  common 
among  all  the  tribes  of  the  Northwest  Amazon,  especially  with  the 
non-cocainists,  the  women  and  children.  "As  a  rule  it  occurs  among 
the  very  poorest — the  slave  clan,  those  who  are  least  able  to  obtain 
such  a  luxury  as  salt,  and  it  is  found  among  the  female  children 
most  of  all .  .  .  I  never  came  across  any  man  who  ate  clay,  though 
I  know  of  a  boy  who  suffered  from  this  neurotic  [?]  appetite.  The 
clay,  if  it  cannot  be  otherwise  obtained,  will  be  scraped  from  under 
the  fireplace,  and  it  is  always  eaten  secretly.  The  Indians  look  up- 
on geophagy  as  injurious,  but  it  appears  to  be  ineradicable.  I  can- 
not help  thinking  it  must  be  due  to  some  great  'want'  in  Indian  diet, 

South  America  189 

a  physical  craving  that  the  ordinary  food  of  the  tribes  does  not 
satisfy.  It  is  instinctive.  In  the  manufacture  of  coca  they  add  clay. 
This  suggests  that  if  taken  in  small  quantities  it  may  have  a  neutral- 
izing and  therefore  a  beneficial  effect  on  some  more  or  less  injurious 
article  of  daily  food.  But  it  rapidly  and  invariably  degenerates  into 
a  vice;  and  the  habit  appears  to  have  a  weakening  and  wasting 
effect  on  the  whole  body.  In  some  parts  of  the  Amazons,  though 
not  with  these  tribes,  the  clay  is  regularly  prepared  for  use,  and  the 
vice  is  shared  by  other  races  than  the  Indian.  Children  who  suffer 
from  this  extraordinary  craving  will  swallow  anything  of  a  similar 
character,  earth,  wax,  and  Bates  even  mentions  pitch,  but  they  pre- 
fer the  clay  that  is  scraped  from  under  the  spot  where  the  fire  has 
been  burning,  probably  because  the  chemical  processes  induced  by 
the  heat  render  it  more  soluble,  easily  pulverized,  and  hence  more 
actually  digestive  in  its  action.  It  has  been  suggested  that  this 
disease  was  introduced  into  America  by  Negro  slaves,  and  is  not 
indigenous.  This  is  a  question  for  the  bacteriological  expert  [?] 
rather  than  the  traveler  to  decide,  but  as  it  indubitably  exists  among 
tribes  that  have  not  come  in  any  contact  with  Negroes  or  Negro- 
influenced  natives,  it  would  seem  to  argue  on  the  face  of  things  that 
the  similarity  of  vicious  tastes  was  due  to  similarity  of  causation, 
rather  than  to  contamination  by  evil  example,  unless  the  ubiquitous 
microbe  is  to  be  held  responsible  for  this  ill  also." 

Geophagy  occurs  not  rarely,  especially  among  younger  individuals 
on  the  Amazon  (P.  Ehrenreich,  Beitrage  zur  Volkerkunde  Brasiliens, 
p.  62). 

In  regard  to  the  Botocudo  P.  Ehrenreich  (Zeitschrift  fur  Ethno- 
logie,  XIX,  1887,  p.  29)  states  merely  that  geophagy  is  widely 
diffused  among  them,  and  quotes  St.  Hilaire  as  saying  that  saline 
earths  which  are  not  rare  in  the  province  of  Minas  and  saline  plants 
serve  them  for  salt  the  use  of  which  is  unknown  to  them  (cf .  above, 
p.  107). 

The  Bakairi  make  dolls  of  a  red  loam  which  is  licked  by  children. 
This  loam,  it  is  said  by  the  natives,  was  eaten  by  their  forebears 
before  they  became  acquainted  with  mandioca.  The  Bororo  drink 
water  mixed  with  loam  as  an  invigorating  beverage,  but  do  not 
eat  loam  (K.  von  den  Steinen,  Unter  den  Naturvolkern  Zentral- 
Brasiliens,  1894,  pp.  282,  481). 

According  to  T.  Koch-Grunberg  (Zwei  Jahre  unter  den  Indianern, 
1910,  II,  p.  291),  edible  clay  is  regarded  as  quite  a  delicacy.  In  his 
work  "Von  Roroima  zum  Orinoco"  (III,  pp.  298,  311,  337)  Koch- 

190  Geophagy 

Griinberg  mentions  balls  of  dried  clay  and  a  fat  white  clay  (probably 
kaolin,  he  adds)  in  form  of  balls  and  wrapped  up  with  leaves,  used 
as  a  relish. 

The  Juan-Avo  or  Caripuna  who  live  in  the  proximity  of  the  cata- 
racts of  the  Madeira  are  described  by  Acunna  as  devouring  earth 
(C.  F.  P.  von  Martius,  Beitrage  zur  Ethnographie  und  Sprachen- 
kunde  Amerika's,  I,  1867,  p.  415). 

The  habit  is  not  confined  to  the  Indians;  for  Negroes  and  whites 
have  the  same  propensity.  At  Pebas,  in  Peru,  Mr.  Hauxwell  found 
it  impossible  to  restrain  his  own  children.  On  the  Maranon  the 
half-breeds  are  mostly  addicted  to  the  practice  of  dirt-eating.  Even 
strangers,  English,  or  the  white  Peruvians,  who  have  intermarried 
with  Mestizos  and  have  had  children  by  them,  find  its  presence 
among  their  little  ones  the  plague  of  their  life.  Children  commence 
from  the  age  of  four  or  less,  and  frequently  die  from  the  results  in 
two  or  three  years.  Officers  there,  who  have  the  Indian  or  half- 
breed  children  as  servants  in  their  employ,  sometimes  have  to  use 
wire  masks  to  keep  them  from  putting  the  clay  in  their  mouth ;  and 
women,  as  they  lie  in  bed  sleepless  and  restless,  will  pull  out  pieces 
of  mud  from  the  adjoining  walls  of  their  room  to  gratify  their 
strange  appetite,  or  will  soothe  a  squalling  brat  by  tempting  it  with 
a  lump  of  the  same  material  (W.  L.  Distant,  Journal  Anthrop. 
Inst.,  X,  1881,  p.  468). 

Gilij  (Saggio  di  storia  americana,  II,  p.  311)  writes  that  the 
Indian  women  of  the  village  Ranco  on  the  Magdalena  River  while 
engaged  in  making  pottery  shove  large  pieces  of  clay  into  their 

According  to  Saffray  (Globus,  XXIII,  1873,  p.  8),  geophagy  oc- 
curs rather  frequently  in  some  regions  on  the  lower  Magdalena  River 
in  Colombia,  but  is  not  endemic  as  on  the  Orinoco.  The  edible  earth 
consists  of  a  very  fatty  clay  of  yellowish  or  reddish  color. 

Earth-eating  is  also  reported  from  southern  Brazil,  Paraguay, 
Peru,  and  Bolivia.  In  Bolivia  a  light  white  clay  (called  pasa)  is 
sold  in  the  markets  with  victuals,  and  is  also  consumed  by  whites, 
particularly  women.  The  clay  is  eaten  either  in  its  natural  state  as 
it  is  dug  near  Oruro,  or  is  purified  and  fashioned  into  jars  or  images 
of  saints.  Odoriferous  resins  are  sometimes  blended  with  the  clay 
to  improve  its  taste.  J.  J.  von  Tschudi  (Reisen  durch  Sudamerika, 
V,  1869)  mentions  a  lady  who  daily  enjoyed  the  clay  figure  of  a 
saint  for  years. 

South  America  191 

G.  I.  Molina  (Saggio  sulla  storia  naturale  del  Chili,  p.  50,  Bologna, 
1810)  speaks  of  a  potter's  clay,  called  by  him  Argilla  buccherina  and 
found  in  the  province  Santiago,  Chile,  fine,  light  in  weight,  odorous, 
brown  with  yellow  dots,  dissolving  in  the  mouth  and  sticking  to  the 
tongue.  The  nuns  of  the  capital  made  delicate  pottery  from  this 
clay  large  quantities  of  which  were  exported  to  Peru  and  Spain 
under  the  name  "bucchero  (bucaro)  ware  of  South  America." 
Water  kept  in  these  vessels  assumes  a  pleasant  flavor.  Peruvian 
women  were  in  the  habit  of  eating  fragments  of  this  pottery  (le 
donne  peruane  costumano  di  mangiarne  i  frammenti  como  le  Mogo- 
lesi  mangiano  il  vasellame  di  Patna);  they  were  presumably  at- 
tracted to  it  by  its  aromatic  properties.     Compare  above,  p.  140. 

F.  Gautier  (see  Bibliography)  found  a  white  clay  used  in  the 
province  of  Potosi  of  Bolivia,  but  did  not  hear  of  any  disease  accom- 
panied by  clay-eating. 

Dr.  A.  Rengger  (Reise  nach  Paraguay  in  den  Jahren  1812  bis 
1826,  p.  326,  Aarau,  1835)  writes,  "Mr.  de  St.  Hilaire  met  men  who 
ate  earth  at  Paranagua,  Guaratuba,  and  in  other  parts  of  the 
Province  Santa  Catharina  (in  Brazil).  He  regards  it  as  a  degenerate 
taste.  I  do  not  share  this  opinion,  but  rather  look  upon  the  devour- 
ing of  earth  as  a  disease,  cases  of  which  frequently  occurred  to  me 
in  Paraguay  and  of  which  I  cured  a  number  of  persons.  In  this 
country  the  matter  was  also  looked  upon  as  an  evil  habit.  I  have 
seen  several  pregnant  women  addicted  to  earth,  who  after  delivery 
lost  again  this  unnatural  propensity." 

A.  N.  Schuster  (Paraguay,  1929,  p.  65),  discussing  geophagy  in 
Paraguay,  regards  it  as  a  disease  caused  by  intestinal  worms. 


Altheer,  J.  J.— Eetbare  aardsoorten  en  geophagie.  Natuurkundig  Tijdschrift 
voor  Nederlandsch  Indie,  Batavia,  XIII,  1857,  pp.  83-100. 

Geophagen  in  den  Indischen  Archipel.  Beschrijving  en  onderzoek 
van  eenige  aardsoorten,  uit  de  Residentie  Kedirie,  die  door  inlanders 
gegeten  worden.  Tijdschrift  der  Vereeniging  t.  Bevord.  der  Geneesk. 
Wetenschapen  in  Nederlandsch  Indie,  Batavia,  V,  1857,  pp.  808-812. 

In  the  Catalogue  of  the  Surgeon  General's  Library  this  article  is  errone- 
ously credited  to  O.  Brummer  whose  name  appears  merely  in  the  preface  as 
one  who  sent  several  specimens  of  edi  ble  clay  to  Batavia.  These  were  examined 
and  analyzed  by  Altheer  whose  name  as  that  of  the  author  is  printed  at  the 
end  of  the  article  on  p.  812. 

Biot  (pere).— Note  sur  des  matieres  pierreuses  employees  a  la  Chine  dans 
les  temps  de  famine,  sous  le  nom  de  Farine  de  Pierre.  Annales  de  chimie 
et  de  physique,  LXII,  1839,  pp.  215-219. 

Translations  of  Chinese  texts  by  E.  Biot  (see  also  Journal  asiatique, 
1840,  p.  290). 

Bouchal,  L. — Geophagie  [in  Indonesien].  Mitteilungen  der  anthrop.  Ges. 
Wien,  XXIX,  1899,  p.  [11]. 

Camilli,  S. — Observations  physiologiques  sur  le  geophagisme.  Bulletin  des 
sciences  medicales,  Paris,  XVI,  1829,  pp.  185-192. 

This  is  the  analysis  of  an  article  published  in  Italian  in  the  Giornale 
Arcadio  of  1842  (not  accessible  to  me).  The  translator,  who  signs  D.,  antago- 
nizes several  of  Camilli's  theories. 

Cortambert,  E. — Coup  d'oeil  sur  les  productions  et  sur  les  peuplades  geophages 
et  les  autres  populations  des  bords  de  l'Orenoque.  Bull,  de  la  Society 
de  Geographie,  1861,  pp.  208-220. 

Cotting,  J.  R.— Analysis  of  a  Specimen  of  Clay  Found  in  Richmond  County, 
which  is  eagerly  sought  after  and  eaten  by  many  people,  particularly  by 
children.  Southern  Medical  and  Surgical  Journal,  Augusta,  I,  1837, 
pp.  288-292. 

Cragin,  F.  W. — Observations  on  Cachexia  Africana  or  Dirt-eating.  American 
Journal  of  the  Medical  Sciences,  XVII,  1835,  pp.  356-364. 

Deniker,  J.— The  Races  of  Man,  1906,  pp.  145-146. 

Ehrenberg,  C.  G.  I— Mikrogeologie.  Das  Erden  und  Felsen  schaffende 
Wirken  des  unsichtbar  kleinen  selbstandigen  Lebens  auf  der  Erde. 
Leipzig,  1854.     2  vols,  folio. 

II — Uber  die  rothen  Erden  als  Speise  der  Guinea-Neger.  Abhandlungen 
der  Akademie  der  Wissenschaften  zu  Berlin,  1868,  pp.  1-55. 

Ferrand,  E.— Terres  comestibles  de  Java.  Revue  d'ethnographie,  V,  1886, 
pp.  548-549. 

Gautier,  F. — Sur  une  certaine  argile  blanche  que  mangent  les  Indiens  de 
Bolivie.  Actes  de  la  Societe  scientifique  du  Chili,  Santiago,  V,  1895, 
pp.  85-86. 

Goebel,  A. — Uber  das  Erde-Essen  in  Persien,  und  mineralogisch-chemische 
Untersuchung  zweier  dergleichen  zum  Genuss  verwendeter  Substanzen. 
Bull,  de  l'Academie  imp.  des  Sciences  de  Saint-Petersbourg,  V,  1863, 
col.  397-407. 

Hamy,  E.  T.— Les  geophages  du  Tonkin.  Bull,  du  Museum  d'histoire  naturelle, 
V,  1899,  pp.  64-66. 


Bibliography  193 

Heringa,  J.— Eetbare  aarde  van  Sumatra.  Natuurkundig  Tijdschrift  voor 
Nederlandsch  Indie,  XXXIV,  1874,  pp.  186-189. 

Heusinger.  — Die  sog.  Geophagie  oder  tropische  (besser:  Malaria-)  Chlorose 
Krankheit  aller  Lander  und  Klimate  dargestellt.    Cassel,  1852.   Non  vidi. 

Hooper,  D.  and  Mann,  H.  H.— Earth-eating  and  the  Earth-eating  Habit 
in  India.  Memoirs  of  the  Asiatic  Society  of  Bengal,  Calcutta,  I,  1906, 
pp.  249-270. 

Hopffe,  A. — Uber  Infusorienerde  (Bergmehl).  Naturwissenschaftliche 
Wochenschrift,  XVI,  1917,  pp.  286-287. 

Humboldt,  A.  von. — Sur  les  peuples  qui  mangent  de  la  terre.  Annales  des 
voyages,  II,  1809,  pp.  248-254. 

Personal  Narrative  of  Travels  to  the  Equinoctial  Regions  of  America. 
London,  1852-53,  II,  pp.  196,  495. 

Ansichten  der  Natur,  third  edition,  1849,  I,  p.  231. 

Aspects  of  Nature.  Translated  by  Sabine.  London,  1849, 1,  pp.  25, 190. 

Lasch,  R. — tiber  Geophagie.  Mitteilungen  der  anthropol.  Gesellschaft 
Wien,  XXVIII,  1898,  pp.  214-222. 

Meigen,  W.— "Essbare  Erde"  von  Deutsch-Neu-Guinea.  Monatsberichte 
der  deutschen  geologischen  Gesellschaft,  1905,  pp.  557-564. 

Mitra,  Sarat  Chandra. — Note  on  Clay-eating  as  a  Racial  Characteristic. 
Journal  of  the  Anthropological  Society  of  Bombay,  VII,  1904-07,  pp.  284-290. 

Spengler. — Die  erdefressenden  Menschen.  Wochenschrift  fur  die  gesammte 
Heilkunde,  Berlin,  1851,  pp.  321-327. 

Thompson,  C.  J.  S. — Terra  Sigillata,  a  Famous  Medicament  of  Ancient  Times. 
Proceedings  of  the  XVIIth  Internat.  Congress  of  Medical  Sciences,  Section 
XXIII,  London,  1913,  pp.  433-444. 

Thorndike,  L. — A  History  of  Magic  and  Experimental  Science  during  the 
First  Thirteen  Centuries  of  our  Era.    2  vols.,  New  York,  1923. 

Thurston,  E. — Earth-eating.  In  his  Ethnographic  Notes  in  Southern  India, 
pp.  552-554,  Madras,  1906. 

Zaunick,  R.—  tiber  "Mehlerde"  im  Anhaltischen  1617.  Naturwissenschaft- 
liche Wochenschrift,  XVI,  1917,  p.  496. 


Abyssinia,  162 

acorn-meal,  mixed  with  clay  by  Pomo 

and  peasants  of  Sardinia,  108,  167, 

Acosta,  J.  de,  179 
Africa,  156-162 
Ainslie,  151 
Ainu,  148-149 
alcarraza,  167 
Algeria,  162 

almagro,  clay  found  in  Spain,  167 
al-Ta'alibi,  151 
alica,  163 

Altheer,  129,  132,  143,  167,  168 
aluminous  earth,  138 
Amazon  tribes,  188-189 
America,  170-191 
ampo,  129 
anaemia,  in  its  relation  to  geophagy, 

Andamans,  110 
Angami  Naga,  143 

ankylostomiasis,  104,  105, 106, 128,  161 
Annamese,  127,  128 
Annandale,  143 
ants'-nests,  earth  from,  eaten,  133, 142, 

157,  158, 162,  168 
Ao  Naga,  143 
Arabs,  153-155 
Argoll,  170 
Armenian  earth,  150 
Australia,  139 
Aztec,  181 

Bakafri,  189 

Bali,  137 

Bandelier,  170 

Barbados,  geophagy  of  Negroes  in,  160 

bark,  as  food-substitute,  120 

Barrett,  S.  A.,  173-174 

Batchelor,  149 

Beaver,  136 

Beccari,  131 

Belon,  166 

Bent,  165 

bergmehl,  168 

Berthelot,  164 

Best,  E.,  134 

Bethlehem,  earth  from  cave  near,  154, 

Biot,  111,  114,  119,  124 
Bogoras,  148 
Bolivia,  190,  191 
Borneo,  131-133 
Botocudo,  189 
Bourke,  171 
Brazil,  185 

bread,  mixed  with  earth,  168 

Browne,  J.  O.,  161 

Browne,  P.,  159 

Bruce,  136 

bucaro  pottery,  eaten  by  Peruvian  and 

Portuguese  women,  108,  191;  eaten 

in  Spain  and  Portugal,  167 
Burma,  143 
burnt  earth,  141 
Burton,  R.,  154,  162 

Cabeza  de  Vaca,  170 

cachexia  africana,  160 

cachexy,  128 

Cahuilla  Indians,  174 

Camilli,  140,  167,  168 

Canaan,  T.,  155 

cannibalism,   in   China,    120;   in   New 

Zealand,  134 
Carib,  160,  184,  188 
Caripuna,  190 
Carolina,  177,  184 
Catawba  Indians,  170,  171 
Central  America,  183-184 
Cepeda,  180 

chalk,  mixed  with  grain,  163 
Chang-kung  Grotto,  112 
Chanvallon,  T.  de,  156 
Chardin,  151 
Chavannes,  125 
Ch'en  Nan,  119 
Cheyenne,  110 
chili,  mixed  with  clay  and  eaten  in 

Mexico,  179;  in  Spain,  167 
chilmolli,  179 
Chin  of  Upper  Burma,  143 
China,  clay-eating  in,  111-126 
cholera,  earth  eaten  as  remedy  for,  133; 

powdered  clay  for,  147 
Chou  li,  124 
Chukchi,  148,  149 
Cimolean  earth,  150 
clay,  used  as  a  cosmetic  in  China,  126; 

in  New  Guinea,  136 
coca,  eaten  with  clay,  189 
Cole,  F.  C,  133 
Colle,  157 
Colombia,  190 
Congo,  156-158 
Cortambert,  187 
Cortes,  180 

Corydalis  ambigua,  149 
Costa  Rica,  184 
Cotting,  176 
Couvreur,  122,  125 
Covel,  164 
Cushing,  171 




Cragin,  160,  161 
Crevaux,  188 

d'Albertis,  136 

Davis,  J.  F.,  118 

d'Azara,  107 

Delhaise,  158 

Deniker,  106,  167 

De  Rochas,  138 

De  Vaux,  150 

diarrhoea,  clay  pills  for,  in  Australia, 

139;  clay  cakes  for,  among  Tungusian 

tribes,  147 
diatomaceous  earth,  102,  110,  154 
Diaz,  178 

Dioscorides,  150,  165 
Distant,  158,  190 

dog  bites,  cured  by  Lemnian  earth,  164 
dragons,  supposed  to  feed  on  clay,  113 
Du  Halde,  125 
Dumoutier,  127 
Dyaks,  130-132 
dysentery,  earth  eaten  as  remedy  for, 

133,  145 

earth,  used  as  tooth-powder,  183 

earth-rice,  102,  113,  114 

Edrlsi,  151 

Egypt,  clay-eating  in  modern,  153; 
geophagy  not  practised  in  ancient, 
103;  Nishapur  clay  in  mediaeval,  151 

Egyptian  earth,  150 

Ehrenberg,  101, 124,  140, 156,  160,  162, 
163,  168,  169,  178 

Ehrenreich,  189 

Ehrmann,  156 

Ellis,  134 

Emmons,  176 

Erman,  146 

Eskimo,  174,  175 

Esquipulas,  183 

Europe,  163-169 

Evans,  132 

Eylmann,  139 

face  powder  of  clay,  126 

famines,  in  China,  117 

Fauvel,  124 

Fee,  163 

Finland,  168,  169 

Finsch,  137 

food-substitutes  in  famines,  120-124 

Forde,  C.  Daryll,  172 

Ftilleborn,  161 

Galen,  150,  164,  165 
Gaud,  157 
Gautier,  191 
Geerts,  116 
Georgi,  146 
Georgia,  176,  184 
Germany,  168 
Gilij,  190 

Gilyak,  148,  149 

Glaumont,  138 

Golberry,  156 

Gomara,  178,  180 

Gordon,  123 

grass,  as  food-substitute,  120,  121 

graves,  earth  from,  eaten,  154, 155, 160, 

Guatemala,  183-184 
Guatuso  Indians,  184 
Guiana,  187 
Guinea,  156 
Gumilla,  187 
gypsum,  mixed  with  alica,  163 

Haemodorum,  root  of,  eaten  with  earth 

in  Australia,  139 
Hajaj,  153 
Halkin,  158 
Hamy,  127 
Hanbury,  125 
Haug,  150 
Hegiage,  166 
helminthiasis,  128 
hemorrhoids,  clay  pills  for,  147 
Heringa,  129,  147 
Herskovits,  161 
Hildegard  of  Bingen,  168 
Hill,  167 
Hoernle,  141 
Honduras,  181 

honey,  mixed  with  earth,  111 
Hooper  and  Mann,  101,  104,  106,  107, 

125,  140,  142,  147,  148,  153 
Hopi  edible  clay,  analysis  of,  172-173 
Hopi  Indians,  172 
Hose  and  McDougall,  132 
Hrdlicka,  173 
Hughes,  G.,  160 

Humboldt,  129,  156,  168,  185-187 
Hutton,  143 

Ibn  al-Baitar,  150,  151 

Ibn  Haukal,  151 

Ibn  Zakkariya,  151 

Iguaces,  170 

India,  140-143;  Persian  earth  in,  151 

indigestion,  clay  eaten  for,  173 

Indo-China,  127-128 

infusorial  earth,  102 

intestinal  diseases,  clay-eating  in,  137 

Iroquois,  106 

Irving,  160 

Ishak  Ibn  AmrSn,  150 

Italmen,  146,  147 

Japan,  geophagy  not  practised  in,  103 

Java,  129-131 

Jochelson,  147,  148 

Jolly,  141 

Jourdanet,  178,  179 

Joyce,  178 

Juan-Avo,  190 



Kai-uku,  134 

Kamchatka,  146-148 

Kanjur,  144 

Kenya,  161 

Ki  Shu-ye,  112 

kieselguhr,  102,  114 

King  chou  ki,  112 

Kiu  hwang  hwo  min  shu,  121 

Kiu  Wu  tai  shi,  120 

Ko  Hung,  112 

Koch-Griinberg,  189 

Kohler,  181 

Koryak,  146 

Krickeberg,  106 

Kwangyuki,  111,  112 

Kyffhauser,  stone  butter  of,  168 

Labillardiere,  129,  137 

lactation,  earth  eaten  to  promote,  139, 

landslips,  112,  115 
Lane,  E.  W.,  153 
Lapland,  169 
Lasch,  103,  125,  156,  181 
Lawson,  176 

laxative,  clay-eating  as,  171 
Leclerc,  150,  153,  166 
Legey,  162 
Legge,  125 

Lemnos,  sigillate  earth  of,  164-166 
Leo  Africanus,  150 
Leucogaeum,  163 
Li  Shi-chen,  114,  117 
Li-su,  eating  earth  mixed  with  honey, 

Lin-ngan  fu,  edible  earth  of,  111 
Ling  piao  lu  i,  126 
Lithgow,  154 

liver  troubles,  clay  eaten  in,  182 
loam,  drunk  with  water,  189 
Lopatin,  146-147 

Macedonia,  168 

Madagascar,  geophagy  not  practised  in, 

Magdalena  River,  190 
Malaysia,  129-133 
Malta,  earth  from  grotto  in,  166 
Maori,  134 
Martin,  133 
Martinique,  156 
Martius,  190 
Maya,  181 
Medicinal  earth,  144 
Meigen,  137 
Melanesia,  136-139 
Mely,  F.  de,  114,  115 
Mexico,  178-182 
Mills,  143 
mineral  flour,  114 

Mitra,  S.  C.,  104,  125,  128,  140,  141 
Molina,  140,  191 

Moqui  Indians,  171 
Morocco,  162 
Mortimer,  188 
Mosquito  Coast,  184 
mountain  meal,  102,  123,  168 
Muller,  J.  B.,  144 

Nan  chao  ye  shi,  111 

Navaho,  172 

Negroes,  156-161,  184,  189,  190 

Neuhauss,  136 

New  Caledonia,  137-138 

New  Guinea,  136-137 

New  Hebrides,  139 

New  Mecklenburg,  137 

New  Zealand,  134 

Nicaragua,  184 

Nieuwenhuis,  131 

Nishapur,  edible  earth  of,  150 

North  America,  170-177 

oath,  earth-eating  in,  142,  143,  181 

Oaxaca,  181,  182 

ochre,  in  Polynesia,  135 

olla,  167 

ooze,  from  lakes,  consumed  in  Mexico, 

178-179;  in  New  Zealand,  134 
Oraibi  Indians,  171 
ordeals,  earth  eaten  in,  131 
Otomac,  185-187 
Ouseley,  151 
Overbergh,  157,  158 

Pallas,  145 

Pamunkey  Indians,  170,  171 

Papago  Indians,  173 

Paraguay,  190,  191 

Patna,  pottery  of,  eaten,  140 

Paucot,  127 

Pen  ts'ao  kang  mu,  114 

Pen  ts'ao  kang  mu  shi  i,  117 

Peri,  127,  128 

Persia,  Armenian  earth  in,  151;  clay- 
eating  in,  150-153 

Peru,  190 

Peter  of  Abano,  166 

Philippines,  ceremonial  earth-eating  in, 

plague,  Lemnian  earth  as  remedy  for, 

Pliny,  150,  163,  164,  165 

P'o,  T'ai  tribe,  indulging  in  earth,  111 

poisons,  cured  by  sigillate  earth,  164 

Polak,  153 

Polynesia,  133-135 

Pomo  Indians,  108,  173 

Popol  Vuh,  183 

Portugal,  167 

Post,  131,  181 

pottery-making  and  clay-eating,  170, 
171,  190 



pottery  sherds,  consumed  in  India,  140; 

in  Peru,  190 
pregnancy,  clay-eating  during,  109, 136, 

137,  140,  141,  157,  159,  161,  179 
Prowe,  104 
Przyluski,  125 
Pueblos,  173 
Purchas,  170 

Raghuvamca,  141 

rains  of  earth,  119 

Rasmussen,  175 

Rauwolf,  162 

Razes,  151 

Read  and  Pak,  116 

Reade,  158 

Rengger,  191 

Richardson,  Sir  John,  174 

Rigg,  129 

Rockhill,  119,  144 

Roth,  H.  L.,  131 

Roth,  W.  E.,  139,  187,  188 

Russell,  F.,  174 

Rutter,  132 

sacred  earth,  142 

Saffray,  190 

Sahagun,  178,  179 

saints'  tombs,  earth  from,  155 

saline  earth,  106,  107 

salt,  in  its  relation  to  clay-eating,  106, 

157,  184,  189 
Sambo,  184 
Samian  earth,  150,  164 
Sanang  Setsen,  144 
sand,  as  substitute  for  salt,  133 
Sapper,  184 
Sardinia,  167 
Sarrasin,  138 

Saville,  Marshall  H.,  181-182 
Saxony,  fossil  flour  used  in,  168 
Scherman,  143 
Schiefner,  144 
Schlimmer,  153 
Schmitz,  157 
Schott,  114 
Schurtz,  107 
Schweinfurth,  157 
Seidel,  150 
Semites,   geophagy   not   practised   by 

ancient,  103 
Senegambia,  156 
Shan  States,  143 
Shan-tung  t'ung  chi,  115 
Sheldon,  184 
Shen  sien  chuan,  112 
Sheng  shwi  yen  t'an  lu,  117 
shi  mien,  stone  meal,  mineral  flour, 

Shu  king,  124 
Siam,  143 
Siberia,  145-148 

Sierra  Leone,  156 

sigillate  earth,  150,  164-166 

Siebold,  148 

Simpson,  E.,  172 

Skinner,  184 

Smith,  Harlan  I.,  176 

Smith,  W.  C,  143 

Smyth,  R.  B.,  139 

soap,  clay  used  as,  174 

soapstone,  eaten  with  flour,  124,  142 

Soares  de  Sousa,  185 

Solanum  fendleri,  tubers  of,  eaten  with 
clay,  171 

South  America,  185-191 

Spain,  167 

Speck,  Frank  G.,  170,  171 

Speiser,  139 

St.  Hilaire,  189,  191 

steatite,  mixed  with  wheat  flour,  in 
China,  124;  in  India,  142;  in  New 
Caledonia,  137,  138;  in  Siam,  143 

Stefansson,  174 

Steinen,  K.  von  den,  189 

Steller,  146 

Stephan,  137 

Sternberg,  148 

Stevenson,  M.  C,  171 

Stoll,  183,  184 

stone  butter,  145,  146,  168 

stone  meal,  102,  114 

Strahlenberg,  145 

Strong,  W.  D.,  174 

Such,  Georgiana  B.,  162 

suicide,  earth  taken  in,  160,  184,  185 

Sung  shi,  115 

Sung  shu,  115,  120 

Surinam,  geophagy  of  Negroes  in,  161 

Sweden,  169 

syphilis,  146 

Tahiti,  red  earth  formerly  eaten  in,  134 

T'ai-hang  Mountains,  112 

tana  ampo,  129 

Tang  shu,  115,  120 

Tarascans,  180 

Taupo  Lake,  in  New  Zealand,  134 

tecuitlatl,  178,  179 

termites'-nests,  earth  of,  eaten,  157 

terra  sigillata,  150,  164-166 

Tezcatlipoca,  179,  180 

Thompson,  C.  J.  S.,  166 

Thompson,  J.  Eric,  181 

Thorndike,  164,  166,  168 

Thurston,  105,  106 

Tibet,  144 

ticatl,  179,  183 

Tietze,  153 

Timor,  131 

tizate,  183 

Torquemada,  179,  180 

Tremearne,  162 

Tripoli,  162 



Tschudi,  190 
t'u  fan,  113 
T'ung  chi,  115,  119 
Tung  Wei,  121 
Tungus,  146,  147 
Tupinamba,  185 

Vauquelin,  186 

Venezuela,  whites  of,  indulging  in  clay, 

Veth,  131 
Vinayavastu,  144 
Virgin,  milk  of,  154;  of  Etla,  182 
Virginia,  Indians  of,  170 
vitriol,  145,  146 
vomiting,  stopped  by  eating  clay,  109, 

151,  166 

Wagner,  M.  L.,  167 
Walker,  132 

Wang  Lie,  112 

Wang  P'i-chi,  117 

Watt,  140 

Wei  Ts'ang  t'u  shi,  144 

West  Indies,  geophagy  among  Negro 

slaves  of,  159 
Whiffen,  188 
Wiedemann,  151 
Wirz,  136,  137 
Wood,  J.,  153 
Wu  Tai  shi,  122 

Yao  Sheng,  112 
Yi-hing  hien  chi,  112 
Young,  T.,  184 

Zapotec  Indians,  182 
Zuni,  108,  171 

7      woftk 

•  *  mo